What is it?
Well, it’s the original. It was the first real foray into home gaming. What is it? It’s the Atari 2600. This was the centerpiece of many a wood-paneled basement rec room. The Atari 2600 introduced an entire generation, Generation X, to the joys of gaming at home. This was what we had first.
When was it introduced?
The Atari 2600 was introduced in 1977. Hundreds of thousands of sugar-addled children and teens gathered in front of both black & white and color TVs, flipped the switchox from “TV” to “Computer,” inserted a cartridge, grabbed the joystick, and played games all day. The console came with two joysticks and the game Combat. Sales of the system were phenomenal. Retailing at around $199, Atari sold just under a half-million of these in 1977 alone.
The games were really what the console was all about. There are far too many developers and creative teams to mention, but my preference was always for Activision games. They seemed more colorful and more exciting to me. Most people remember the classics – Pac Man, Space Invaders, Mission Command, Pong, Asteroids, and thousands more. My favorites were Pitfall, Dig Dug, River Raid, Megamania, and my all-time favorite: Yars’ Revenge.
Why it’s important
It’s important to remember where you come from. The Atari 2600, for all it’s limitations in hindsight, was the introduction to readily available gaming. I grew up in the Golden Age of Video Games. This means I had the home consoles as well as the option to go to the mall and play in arcades like Aladdin’s Castle or Galaxy Arcade. Nostalgia is a powerful vehicle that takes us back to a time that was seemingly better.
The availability of the Atari 2600 is surprisingly affordable and abundant. There are emulators available which are faithful to the original releases. You can also purchase a retro-console either online or in person at any number of stores. It may feel like your taking a step back with the graphics and pace of play, but that’s what you miss about it. The games were simpler, the excitement was fresher, and the future was unlimited unless you were an E.T. game.
This article is the first in a series of articles that will allow us to look back at the toys and games and music that shaped our childhood. If you have any suggestions for topics, feel free to chime in.