My latest short story "The Night the Lights Came On"

Friday, July 15, 2011

Videogame Memories 01 | Jeff Hite

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In the beginning, there was pong, or so I am told. I am not that old, though I am close. I have actually “written” code using punch cards, and played games that required all keyboard input because the joystick wasn’t really a real thing yet.

I was born in the 70’s and despite that fact I was pretty darn near 30 before I had ever played a video game that used a controller that didn’t look like an upside down “T.” I take that back when I was a teenager my brother had a first generation Nintendo, that he shared with me and yes the magic up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A select start does actually means something to me. Then again so do iddqd and idkfa. Despite that nearly useless knowledge, these are not my earliest video game memories. Those come from much earlier.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw it, that magic screen projecting device, but it was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen. It was two and a half hours away from my house, and it belonged to my older cousins, but my brother and I spent many a night talking across the room ab out how wonderful it was to play Pacman.

It didn’t matter that we never had enough play time to make it past level 1. It didn’t matter that every time we got our hands on the controls that we had deal with the hoard of screaming people in the room telling us which way we should go and how we should watch out for that ghost right there. Can’t you see it are you blind? You are headed right for it! It didn’t matter that one half of the controller set had been modified for a lefty and you had to play left handed or the fire button was just totally in the wrong spot. (Something I still thank them for since I can now do most things with both hands.) What mattered was that we got to play. And the stories we would tell each other about that time were no less than legendary.

You see my cousins where the first people we knew that had a video game. We had seen them at stores and begged our parents for quarters to play them, but this was an actual system in their home and you didn’t need quarters, you just needed to wait your turn. Sometimes the line was long enough that you could have earned that quarter, but it was always worth it to sit in that darkened basement and play the three turns you got being eaten by ghosts well before you could leave the bottom half of the screen.

After that, we did eventually get a “computer.” It was a Texas Instruments 80 with a sound modulator and tape recorder back up. We had three games at first, Hunt the Wampus, a version of space invaders and PARSEC! But there was that tape backup and it had to be used.

My father was an engineer, at the time working for the Air Force, and was the first computer nerd that I ever knew. He had a plan for us. We were going to learn to write BASIC code. He got us several books, and showed us how we could follow the instructions to write our own choose your own adventure games. He even taught us how we could take instructions from one program and put them in another program so that you could have a cooler more complicated game. It didn’t take long before I was writing my own very primitive games. Heck I even wrote one that used the joystick in a very limited way, but it used it.

That was many moons ago, and even though developers now ask me never to write code, ever again, it was how I got started in my current career field. (Thanks dad for turning me into a computer nerd.) Those were good times and we did move on from there. When I begged for a commodore 64, we bought an IBM clone. I learned DOS, and started my writing career. But it was not just for writing, it had games to you know. Kings Quest, Wizardry and early flight simulators took a large amount of my days. They might have been in black and green, the characters might have been stick figure-esque, and I never did figure out how you could gnaw and something a miss, but those video games were legendary things and, if you were patient enough and held your mouth just right, you could some times even save your game.

Jeff Hite is primarily a husband and father, but when he is not at home playing with the ever growing number of kids he is an IT professional by day. In his "spare time" he is a writer, one of the co-founders of Flying Island Press and the managing editor of of Pirate's Cove.  He lives by the motto : "I am a pirate your rules don't apply."

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