Forget baseball. That’s hasn’t been America’s great pastime since at least the early 1980s. Video games occupy more of our collective attention than any sport or game. Find that hard to believe?
More telling is that 5 million Americans put in 40 hours a week gaming. That’s five hundred thousand more people than the top 5 employers in the US have working for them. Maybe they need help with a tech addiction. Maybe they should turn that gaming time into a way to make money.
This year, there are 15 games vying to be part of the inaugural inductee class. There’s going to be at least one of them that you’re itching to play again. Let’s take a look at the five oldest legends and how you can play them one more time.
Tetris – 1984
The Cold War was still on. The threat of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) still loomed over the world. It was the USA and Russia posturing for the position of top world power. No one suspected Russia of conquering the US with a seemingly simple puzzle game called Tetris. That facile facade is what sucked you in. “What challenge is there in stacking simple shapes?” “How captivating could it be?” “Oh, those Russians“.
Captivating enough to suck in over half a billion people. After gaining some exposure first in its Russian motherland, then cult-like status on the IBM PC, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, and Apple II family, Tetris made the jump to the arcade with Sega. Finally, in 1989, Tetris practically made the Nintendo Game Boy the huge success it was.
Over thirty years later, Tetris is still czar of the puzzle games. With that kind of pervasiveness, you can find versions of Tetris on anything with a screen. Download it for your iOS, or Android device or get it for your Xbox 360. But you can still get a Game Boy Tetris Bundle, if you want the real old-school experience.
Pac-Man – 1980
For those of us over 40, if we close our eyes and think of Pac-Man we can still here the distinctive “wokka-wokka” sound of that little yellow disk eating dots. We still link the “wu-wu-wu-wu-wu-bwot-bwot” dying sound he made with our life’s failures. Maybe that’s because a generation of kids pumped over 62,500 tons of quarters into these Pac-Man arcade machines. Stacked, those quarters would be bigger than 363,740 ft³. That’s almost as big as the Merchandise Mart in Chicago!
Today you can’t turn around without seeing video game characters on mugs, t-shirts, bed spreads…anything and everything! Pac-Man was really the first to make that leap, and he did it to the max! Back in the day, there were Pac-Man strategy guides, plush toys, board game, and even Pac-Man wallpaper. There are many Pac-Man clones out there, too. The big yellow guy even inspired a concept album spawning the novelty hit, Pac-Man Fever.
If you’re having a relapse of Pac-Man Fever, you can still play the original PacMan on PC, Android, iOS, and original Game Boy, but if you want the whole experience you need the stand-up Midway Pac-Man arcade game.
Space Invaders – 1978
If Pac-Man made video games a part of everyday life, then Space Invaders opened the door for him. It was the game that became the reason you went to the arcade. Before, you’d go to play some pinball, and maybe drop a quarter in that silly video game in the back. Yes, pinball really existed before it was a game on Windows XP. After Space Invaders, you went to beat the high score on it, and tolerate the pool players in the back, smoking up the place.
That capability to store high scores made it the first video game to inspire tournaments. It was the first game of the electronic sports era. In fact, it was the first to show the world that video games could be a big entertainment business. By 1982, the game profited $450 million. Star Wars, at the time the highest grossing movie ever, only made $175 million in profits.
The premise, like Tetris, seemed simple enough. Aliens marched in formation back and forth across the sky gradually getting closer to your earth-bound laser canon. As they marched faster and got closer, the background music played faster too – another industry first. Anyone could play it without much instruction.
Then you quickly found out it took some real skill to be good at it. That easy-to-get-into, hard-to-master quality made it the game that brought the arcade into the home with the fondly remembered Atari 2600. You could say Space Invaders made console gaming mainstream.
Like the games above, you can still re-live the nostalgia, and anxiety, of battling well-organized aliens. Of course, you can download clones of Space Invaders for your Android, iOS, and Windows. If you’re lucky enough to still have an Atari 2600 console, you might be lucky enough to buy the original Space Invaders cartridge for it. If not, you can get it, along with 9 other Atari classics in an original Atari joystick form. Just plug it into your TV and be 12 again. Or go for the gusto and get the upright Space Invaders arcade game.
Pong – 1972
Are you counting down the games by year released, like this article? Surprised that Pong isn’t the oldest one on the list? Most people would be. If asked, many people would say that this really made video games an industry. They’d be right too.
You’ve heard the the tale about the first Pong machine being set up in a local pub. It was set up next to another video game pioneer, the slightly older but more complex Computer Space. Yet, Pong’s easy-to-play single controller style made it the hit in the pub. Before long, there were complaints about it breaking down. It turned out that the problems was the machine being too full of quarters. Atari had a hit on their hands. The arcade game era was born.
Pong game play wasn’t really that innovative, though. Variations of the table-tennis game had been around since the mid-60s in computer labs, and there was already a home console version in the Magnavox Odyssey. In fact, Atari was sued by Magnavox and settled out of court. However, what makes it iconic was its arcade success.
Pong broke into areas of the world where computers were still looked at with suspicion and a little fear. Its success in the wild prompted Atari to develop a home console. Again, not the first home console, but the first Christmas season it was available, Atari sold 150,000 units through Sears. Atari became synonymous with video gaming for years to come.
Being a pretty generic game and so old, there are plenty of knock-off versions out there. But you can still get the original Pong on Android as part of the Atari Greatest Hits Pro game. For your iOS device, you need to get the Atari Greatest Hits iOS app and buy the Pong package as an in-app purchase. You could also play Pong on your PC, along with 79 other gems, if you get the Atari: The 80 Classic Games in One CD.
Maybe you should install a Pong emulator on your computer as well. If you want the DYI experience and feel like Pong’s designer, Allan Alcorn, get the Velleman Classic TV Pong Game Kit and build it yourself. But if you want the big yellow box original Pong arcade game, you’re going to have to shell out about ten thousand quarters – roughly what you put in it back in the day.
The Oregon Trail – 1971
When you were wondering what computer game of importance could be older than Pong, you weren’t thinking The Oregon Trail were you? Probably not. Most people that know the game, know that it was meant as a history education game. That’s true. It was created by a student teacher, Don Rawitsch, and two of his friends in Minnesota in 1971. The kids loved it! Don made the game available to other schools in Minneapolis on their computer time-sharing service. When he was done as a student teacher, the next semester, he deleted it. Deleted it!
In 1974, the state funded Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) hired Don to recreate The Oregon Trail. And he did. And he added in the ability to make choices and experiences consequences as the settlers did. That’s probably more like The Oregon Trail that you remember. Again, it was uploaded to the computer time-sharing service and became popular once again. Thousands of Minnesotans played it every month.
In an interesting move that we would now call open-sourcing, Rawitsch published the source code in Creative Computing magazine. Now anyone with the inclination could enjoy it. That same year, 1978, The Oregon Trail traveled to the Apple II computer – the computer of choice for many schools.
The historical game proved to be timeless. By 1995, The Oregon Trail was responsible for one-third of MECC’s yearly revenue. Not bad for a school project. Of course, it was updated several times in different versions for different platforms right to this day.
If you’re looking to experience virtual dysentery once again, you can still get The Oregon Trail for Windows, Mac, Kindle Tablet, Android, Nintendo 3DS and Wii, and if you want to set up a DOS emulator, you can still play the 1992 The Oregon Trail Classic Edition. That’s about as original as you’re going to get. Unless you want to try to get a CDC Cyber 70/73-26 computer emulator going and entering all the code for The Oregon Trail as published back in 1978.
You’ve finally reached the end of this trip down the digital memory lane. No doubt you’ve gone and picked up at least one of these games again. Maybe you shared it with your kids, or even grand kids. It’s exactly that fondness for these games that proves their place in the World Video Game Hall of Fame.
Video games don’t need to have realistic graphics, virtual-reality worlds, and complicated game play. They just need to capture our imagination, to challenge our minds, and to inspire possibilities. Don’t you miss that about old-school video games?
Were you prompted to dust off the Atari? Or did you never put it away? What other games from your past did you recall once again? What is your fondest memory of taking a pocket full of quarters and heading to the arcade? Let’s reminisce in the comments below.
Image Credits: Rasputin, Merchandise Mart, Chicago,Arcade Games, Atari 2600a, Atari Pong and Computer Space, , TeleGames Atari Pong, CDC Cyber 170 Computer, Apple II Computer, via Wikipedia, Tetris Game Boy Bundle, via Amazon.