Evolution is an amazing thing, isn’t it?
There’s my daughter, spending lockdown locked into Animal Crossing on her dinky wee handheld Nintendo Switch, thinking it’s Archie.
But I was there back at the primeval dawn of video games, when they were proper dinosaurs – big beasts, cabinet-sized, loud and flashy.
They sat in the corner of every pub in the land, ready to chew up every 10p coin you had in your possession, then send you to the bar for more.
Asteroids, BattleZone and – the granddaddy of them all, the one that paved the way – Space Invaders.
You see, I was hitting my pub-going days just as these arcade games were hitting the pubs.
I remember the first time I clapped eyes on Space Invaders and thinking: “What marvel is this?”
A full-colour, moving game, with descending hordes of aliens to be fended off while you blasted them with your laser cannon, dodging from side to side watching your score ratchet up.
I mean, wow, what a time to be alive.
Well it would be wow to a generation who until that point thought the height of video game sophistication was playing Pong on your telly.
I mean, I though cutting edge gaming technology was that aircraft simulator game in the local ‘musies.
The one that actually launched a plastic plane up a bit of fishing line, and you then had to guide it back down the nylon lifeline to the hard deck. You may not remember it. I think I might have misspent my early teens without ending up with a valuable skill like snooker.
Arcade games were
machines out of the
way in hostelries
Anyway, back to days when the 70s became the 80s and my mates and I became hooked on the arcade games which were shouldering fruit machines out of the way in the nation’s hostelries.
Space Invaders was cool, but we need more. More speed, more challenges. Enter Galaxian.
Same idea, but with more swooping and diving and a bigger variety of creatures. That was a challenge in itself, but we made it more interesting by introducing the competitive edge.
Highest scorer didn’t have to buy his round at the bar. So, an incentive to not only waste time and money, but also start wasting our young livers.
Yet we needed more still on the video front. So much so, that as new games were released we would actually hunt them down in whatever bar they ended up.
Being an Edinburgh boy that meant taking the bus to some rather far-flung parts of the capital and some rather interesting establishments.
We once nervously turned up in Leith (we were from the Gorgie side of the city, brought up on lurid tales of how Leithers were little better than savages) to seek out the shiny new Donkey Kong in one salubrious dockside bar.
We were stopped mid-game and told the machine was being shut off. The go-go dancers were about to start and had complained about the noise coming from arcade corner. Welcome to the early 80s.
My personal favourite was Asteroids. I liked its simplicity, both in the green basic line drawings and the spin and shoot action. Sure, it got harder as you went but not so mind-boggling difficult you ended up slapping the side of the cabinet in sheer frustration, drawing a Paddington extra hard stare from the barman.
I did that a fair few times with Missile Command. When this game came out it was “oooh” stuff. Instead of a joystick and buttons there was a tracker ball.
was a real
As enemy thermonuclear warheads rained down, you had to launch counter missiles to stop them. A lot. I always ended up with a white screen of death.
For the sake of clarity for those who weren’t around back then, this game of global Armageddon was being played when global Armageddon was a real possibility. The four-minute warning was a thing. I was lucky if I lasted four-minutes on Missile Command.
Now, a scamper through early video games wouldn’t be complete with Pac-Man. Which I detested.
I hated the noise. I still do. I hated the music. I still do. I hated the tedious chasing through mazes. I still do. But I still ended up playing it a fair bit. Why? Partly peer-pressure, because my mates liked it. But mostly because it was the first game I ever saw that came in a table-top version.
No more standing up all night. You could sit down and have somewhere to put your pint(s).
My obsessive pub gaming exploits ended as I got more into my 20s. Basically, my mates and I started spending more time with girlfriends and less time trying to get Italian plumbers to jump between platforms. In a couple of cases I think giving up on the latter led to the former.
But I did go out on a blaze of glory. Star Wars the video game arrived just as I was bowing out.
For me, piloting an X-Wing fighter into the canyons of the Death Star was why video games were brought into existence. And when Obi-Wan said: “Use The Force”, I did. And the last of my 10 pences.
These days when my daughter is engrossed in Animal Crossing, I can have a wee wry smile to myself. It was my investment of all those hard-earned coins almost 40 years ago that bankrolled the gaming industry and the development of the games she loves.
So she can thank me anytime she likes – so can the gaming industry of Dundee come to that. You’re welcome.