My first video game experiences

I’m 30 years old, and for as long as most people have known me, video games have been a part of my identity.  It’s a passion that waxes and wanes through the years, but for the most part it has always been there.  Well, not always.  You know, there was a time before games, before Nintendo.

My VERY first memory of video games involves the NES.  I had to be around 5 years old.  It was at least 1987, because I remember a friend and co-worker of my Dad’s bringing over his NES to our house.  If I recall, his name was Kevin.  This was a long time ago, so that may not be accurate, but for the sake of the story, we’ll call him Kevin.  He and my Dad set up a small 13″ TV in our dining room and strung out all the cables and connected the NES to the TV.  I really had no idea what it was.  But I remember Kevin was excited to show it off.  They were playing The Legend of Zelda, which I distinctly remember because of the gold cartridge and I remember watching Link walk around killing creatures.  I never did play it though.  To be honest I was more interested in this totally awesome firefighter board game he brought for me and my sister.

Not the same TV, but a very similar setup to what I remember.

Not the same TV, but a very similar setup to what I remember.

To side track just a minute here.  That board game by the way, was freaking awesome.  I completely forgot what it was called, but thanks to the internet, I actually was able to find it!  It was called “Oops & Downs”.  You actually assembled several pieces of cardboard together to create a 3 tier game board and you raced to the top.  Sometimes you’d land on a tube though, and you had to slide your fireman down the the level below.  It made a funny little “waaaah” noise as the game piece slid down the tubes.  It was about as complicated as Shoots & Ladders, but it was so much fun!  I hadn’t thought about that game in forever!

Oops & Downs

Okay.  Back  to Nintendo.

So while Kevin’s NES was my first exposure to video games, I didn’t have a real meaningful impression until some time later.  Sometime in 1987 or 1988 I remember visiting a friend of my Mom’s.  I can’t remember what her name was.  I’m 95% sure my Mom knew her as a co-worker from her days at “OK Video” in Dodge City.  I want to say she had a somewhat uncommon name.  At any rate, her son had an NES in his room.  He would have been a few years older than me.  And I remember vividly, his room was small and cluttered.  It was dark, lit only by the glow of a small TV and the light that bounced in from the open door to the hallway.  I remember watching him play Super Mario Bros. and thinking, “This is amazing!”

Any impressive technology provides a bit of disbelief that you are actually able to do what it allows you to do.  I still marvel at smartphones, and that I’m able to get my e-mail, navigation and even video chat from almost anywhere.  It still baffles me a bit to know that all that is capable in a device you can slide into your pocket.  If you weren’t there at the time, it’s hard to imagine the NES as “amazing”, I’m sure.  But the Nintendo Entertainment System really felt like something new and cutting edge.  When you saw it sitting on the shelf, you marveled at the technology inside.  It looked sleek and very “now”.  The NES has become such an icon of retro culture that it’s difficult to believe that we once looked at it the same way we look at the PS3 or iPad now.  It was an expensive advanced and fancy pants machine in its day, that’s for sure.

Today this looks "retro".  In the 80's this looked fresh and cutting edge.

Today this looks “retro”. In the 80’s this looked fresh and cutting edge.

I remember watching this kid in his room, pluck-ing fireballs, going down pipes, and exploring this amazing world inside the television.  He let me play a bit.  I of course was terrible, but I was compelled, just wondering what could possibly lie just off to the right of the screen.  What adventures did each next level have in store?

My Mom came in and told me it was time to go home.  I actually cried when it was time to leave.  I wanted to badly to stay and keep playing.  In the weeks after that, whenever Mom loaded us up in the Astro Van to go run errands, I always hoped in the back of my mind that we would make a stop at that house so I could play more Mario.  To this day, I still remember that house was on Avenue C.

This is quite possibly the house I played my first Nintendo game.

This is quite possibly the house I played my first Nintendo game.

The weeks and months that followed may possibly have been some of the most annoying days my parents ever experienced.  I don’t remember nagging them for a Nintendo, but I do remember REALLY wanting one BAD.  So whether I deserved a Nintendo, or they got one just to shut me up, I’m unsure.  When  you’re 6 years old, you have a significant lack of perspective.  Whatever the motivation we eventually got our very own Nintendo Entertainment System.

Here’s what I remember… I don’t recall it being a particularly special occasion like a holiday or birthday.  I just remember my parents saying we were going to Wal-Mart and we were “Going to get a Nintendo”.  I couldn’t believe it.  I don’t remember going in the store, but for some reason I feel like I remember seeing the box in the car on the way home… that memory is really fuzzy though.

As a note, this is not our first NES. Our FIRST NES was destroyed by one of my careless friends (Daniel D.) who ran across in front of the TV while I was playing. He yanked the deck right off the shelf, onto the floor, never to work again. I still have 2 copies of Super Mario Bros. to show for it.  PROOF that this wasn’t our first NES… the Quickshot controller on the bottom shelf under the TV in the photo.  Why would I have that, if I didn’t already have an NES?

One thing I do remember rather clearly is my folks saying it was going to take 30 minutes to hook it up once we got it home.  30 MINUTES!  I couldn’t believe it!  What an eternity!  I might as well just wait until I’m RETIRED!  Sheesh!  Time is certainly a relative perception, and if you have kids, don’t underestimate the difficulty little people have waiting for things to happen.  When you’re a kid, if it’s not happening now, it may as well be 100 years away.  The funny thing is, now hooking up a NES takes about 2 minutes.  But it sure felt pretty complex back then.

I also recall being chiefly aware that this was expensive.  I don’t know if I respected that fact then as much as I do now.  It was definitely a lot of money compared to every other toy I had.  I figure the NES probably cost around $150 then… the equivalent of almost $300 in today’s money. That was a lot of money just to shut me up!  Ha ha.

After that, my clearest memories involve me being supremely frustrated with Super Mario Bros.  There was so much rage when I couldn’t even clear the first jump in World 1-1.  Time and time again, I would approach that hole… jump… and die.  Mom had to try to calm me down, I would get so mad.  I even tried thrusting the controller up in the air, hoping my muscle movements would help propel Mario over that chasm.  Little did I know someday that would actually be possible.  But with patience… okay, maybe not patience, but practice… I finally cleared that first jump.  After that I never looked back.

The NES continued to bring so many great memories.  Excitebike, Punch Out, Galaga, Rad Racer, Ice Hockey… all early experiences that felt completely amazing.   And it began a love for games that continues to this day, even if I spend more time reading and writing about them that I do playing them it seems.

What were your first gaming memories?  Post ’em up in the comments!

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Posted on March 22, 2013, in Moments of Clarity, Nostalgiariffic, Retro, Video Games. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Super Mario Bros and Zelda were mine. There was also King’s Quest 3 on the computer, but that was too advanced for me at the time.

    • Didn’t those games all seem so astounding back then?

      After all this time, what kind of games do you find yourself playing? Are you still compelled by the new 2D Mario games and new Zelda games?

  2. You have a GREAT memory! I don’t recall who Dad’s friend was. I do remember him bringing it over and the Zelda game. Wow! the Oops and Down game…you guys LOVED that. I had forgotten it! Soon as I read that part I could hear the sound in my head that was made when they went down the tubes! Crazy!

    The really important thing about your very first Nintendo gaming system is that you earned half of the money yourself. It was important to Dad and I that you learned value of money, pride and responsibility (Ugh! parents!) You didn’t just keep your room picked up, though that was part of it. As I recall, you took initiative and looked for things to do to earn a dollar here and two dollars there. We kept a total and when you got to your goal we went to get the gaming system at Walmart. There wasn’t any ‘working on account’. You did it all up front before you could get the Nintendo!

    I do remember you getting frustrated at times. A couple times I remember hearing either a stomp or an exclamation. But it wasn’t long before you were showing us the way to get through game levels.

    The rest is history. It started a lifetime process of me having you help me with everything from the first gaming system through to this computer you built for me!

    This was an amazing walk down memory lane! Thanks, Matt! You are the BEST!

    • Funny that I don’t remember working for half of it. Ha ha. But that does explain why I so vividly remember it being really expensive, and why it wouldn’t have been tied to any holidays or birthdays.

      I remember sometimes you’d bring games home from the video store when you closed and they had to go back the next day.

      Definitely good times. =)

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