The Life of a 40 Year Old Game Part Two


40Year Techie Nerd Video Gamer

= THE DATE: 1979 to 1985
1980 is a key year for nerds, for obvious reasons.

The Voyager I probe flies by Jupiter and Saturn, then begins its Extended Mission during this period. The US hockey team is the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics. The space shuttle program in space began. We have the highest unemployment rate since 1940. Ronald Reagan talks about a real Star Wars program. The Cold War begins to wind down with a meeting in Switzerland. The Windows Operating System is first released, putting Microsoft and Bill Gates squarely on the map.

Also, Apple Macintosh.

7 to 13. It’s a turbulent time in my life, learning how to be self-reliant. I keep dying of embarassment in grade school, despite my parents trying to help me cope. I think it has to do with the fact that like almost all the boys have bowl haircuts or mullets. Or both*.

Still mostly using rotary phones, as discussed in the last installment. Now, however, things are starting to go mobile. This is the era of the mobile phone. Of course, the world is still working on miniaturizing technology, so they are huge brick phones, or phones that are attached to a large device in your car. Same technology ran both phones.

Brick phone

It’s a toss up between magazines and newspapers, since there are now more magazines with more color photos in them. They cover the gamut of topics, including video games.

Atari Magazine

We’re still watching the old school TVs with CRTs, but now average class people are also watching satellite TV and limited cable television (hello Cinemax and HBO) more often. We also have Music Television (MTV) and Night Tracks to watch the explosion of music videos. American Bandstand is losing ground, and Soul Train is evolving through a period of Funk and Disco to cover more pop music.

People also watched a lot of Mork and Mindy, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Greatest American Hero , Airwolf, Knight Rider, MASH and A-Team. A lot of TV. Kids my age were raised on it.

OH! And the Muppet Show. Who could forget the Muppets?

I'm reaching their age ...

I’m reaching their age …

Second generation consoles were on the rise. Aside from the Atari 2600, we have Intellivision and ColecoVision. Well, I had a Intellivision, one cousin had the Atari, and my other cousin had the ColecoVision. Then in 1983 … everything crashed. Mattel and Coleco cancelled the next release of their consoles due to the over-saturation of the market of terrible games (such as ET), and Atari found themselves floundering along. People thought video games at home were done.

But in Japan, Nintendo had spun out the Family Computer (Famicom). By the end of the era, they released the Nintendo Entertainment System, which took the world by storm. I was busy adjusting to middle school, so my younger sister played the NES while I was too busy studying.

Handhelds involved popular electronic games like Football, Baseball and everyone’s favorite telephone looking oddball – Merlin.

Handheld baseball

Looks like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?

Personal computes also grew in popularity, including variations on Hewlett Packard’s monsters. Apple started pumping out Apple IIc/e computers. Commodore released the C-64 and the Amiga series. IBM even began producing the officially named IBM PC, which would evolve into the modern PC.

I think every classroom had one.

I think every classroom had one.

Everyone found themselves – in one way or another – in a video game arcade. Large screens in a cabinet with simple controls (a joystick/trackball and buttons) that took a token or a quarter would rob teenagers and the occasional adult blind. Loud music, flashing lights and neon signs were plastered everywhere. Kids begging their parents for “one more coin.” People came together to entertain themselves this way when not engaged in SPORTS, MUSIC or CARS.

Imagine more neon lights and a giant ALADDIN'S CASTLE sign

Imagine more neon lights and a giant ALADDIN’S CASTLE sign

Or everyone was break-dancing.

Denim. Everything was denim for a long while. Big hair, Keds and neon colors. Band T-shirts, ripped or stone-washed jeans, and Converse All-Star shoes. In fact, at one point, Hawaiian shirts made a comeback. Neon Hawaiian shirts**, at that. Digital/calculator watches were coming into fashion, although there were also Swatches (Swiss watches).

Best way to cheat at maths.

Best way to cheat at maths.

Disco came and went, leading to the era of heavy metal and punk rock. On top of all that, everyone was talking about … pop music. Talk about … pop music. The entire decade is defined by the strange and surreal sounds of New Wave bands, such as Devo, Maddness, Berlin and Eurythmics. Early rap and hip-hop music was forming, as well as popular artists such as Paula Abdul and Micheal Jackson (with Thriller). Break-dancing and break dancing music was insanely popular for a time.

Lots of toys were based on famous cartoons and comics, or vice-verse. It was also the era of the action figure, as Star Wars and Transformer figures proved. Care Bears, Cabbage Patch, He-Man, G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Smurfs. Don’t forget Strawberry Shortcake, My Pretty/Little Pony and Rainbow Brite. Rubik’s Cubes, Simons and one heck of a creepy talking toy – Teddy Ruxpin.

You win by peeling all the stickers off and putting them back on.

You win by peeling all the stickers off and putting them back on.

At this point, we’re talking Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Centipede and other bright arcade games. The titles crossed over between home systems and arcades. Mario Brothers arrived, as well as Tetris. MULE, Autoduel (the Car Wars video game), the Ultima series and all the Infocom interactive fiction games. True electronic role-playing games were just in their infancy.

Board games included a lot of re-emerging games, such as Hungry Hungry Hippos, Trouble and Operation.  A new game called Trivial Pursuit was making the rounds, stumping people with common subjects (such as Sports, Science, Geography, Pop Culture and Literature).


First Appearance of the Moustached Crusaders of Good

It was the era of big blockbuster films, and movie theaters became larger than life. Movies started to become increasingly more nerdy in nature, as well. WarGames featuring everyone’s favorite Ferris Bueller*** Matthew Broderick, for example. You also had classics like Dark Crystal, E.T., TRON, BladeRunner, The Terminator, Ghostbusters, Legend, the Mad Max films, The Goonies, two Indiana Jones movies and Back to the Future.

Or you had all the brat pack/young rebel films – Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Lost Boys, Weird Science and Karate Kid. Horror legends such as Poltergeist, The Shining, Gremlins, Evil Dead (a horror comedy), the start of the Halloween franchise, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Thing. So many movies happened between 1979 and 1985 … too many to mention here.


But most of all, STAR WARS EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. The biggest impacting sci-fi movie series of all time (even beating out Star Trek’s two big movies, including Wrath of Khan), riding on the back of the first episode’s release that came out 1977. Empire blows up in 1980 with the most wicked twist, and then Return of the Jedi ends the entire trilogy in 1983. So big that there are thousands of novels, comics and films (including the big anticipated return to the SW Universe in 2015). And that’s for Episodes 4, 5 and 6.****

Not only was sci-fi dominated by George Lucas at this point, but also by Frank Oz. Steven Spielberg was making big waves, as well. As was Harold Ramis, rest in peace.


* Thanks Mötley Crüe. Forever scarred.
** I have a memory of me pretending to sing Kyrie by Mr. Mister in a neon blue Hawaiian shirt in 8th grade.
*** Ferris Bueller doesn’t get his big day off until 1986.
**** This is why you should always do things in order, otherwise 1, 2 and 3 are horrible.