Video Games Didn't Exist, And Then One Day They Absolutely Did

1987 was the year I discovered video games. Before then there were no video games. Before then video games didn't exist.

Before then it was kicking a football against a garage door. Before then it was going to my friend's dad's caravan and learning swear words. Before then it was finding pornography stuck in a hedge and being truly, viscerally terrified of vaginas.

I was six years old. I lived in Scotland. It was 1987.

Video games arrived in a brown Adidas duffle bag. Video games smelled like shin-pads. Video games were a bundle of cables, a cassette player and a keyboard. Video games had rubber keys.

Video games were cassette tapes. Some encased in fat oversized chunks of plastic and art that was wild, hand-drawn, bizarre, surreal; completely unrepresentative of the game experience. Some in cases with folded, crisp-white cardboard and a biro scribble. Names. Words I only barely knew how to read.

Monty On The Run. Back To Skool. Way Of The Exploding Fist. I didn't know I was about to commit a criminal act. I was blissfully unaware.

Some had no cases at all. No names. Magnetic tape wrapped tight around two spools. C15. TDK.

Video games fit nicely into my cupboards. Video games were rectangular cubes. I could order them, find new ways to make them fit. I would do this. Over and over again.

Video games were black and white. Our colour television lived downstairs, but I wasn't allowed. Video games lived on my Gran's old TV; old enough to have a dial. Once a week I was allowed to play on the big TV downstairs. A brief moment: pure fucking ecstasy. Video games were in colour.

Video games were an instant obsession. Video games were doodles on my jotters, the subject of show and tells. Video games were the stories I wrote, the games I played on the playground.

Video games were the friends I made. We would swap tapes. We had ingenuity. We convinced parents to buy packs of blank tapes. We figured out how to copy one tape onto another with shitty little ghettoblasters. We were filthy little pirates.

Video games made a noise like this:

We didn't really mind. Or know any different. In our own way we'd learn to fetishise it.

Video games would make us confused as fuck. They'd be too difficult because they had elaborate rules and instruction manuals we couldn't read or — worse — didn't own. Video games would be broken in fundamental ways. We'd play them anyway. We'd try so very hard to play them.

We'd forget them. We'd stumble across a screenshot or a video uploaded to YouTube and find ourselves remembering moments that were once lost.

"Howdy pardner what name do you go by?"


The memories would filter back into consciousness and re-order themselves strangely. The smell of dog hair, the taste of milky tea loaded with sugar. Turnip. My grandparents used to make me eat turnip. Holy goddamn shit. My Papa used to hide the remote control and told me that turnip granted me super powers. I'd turn off the television with my mind and I believed that shit wholeheartedly. Video games were little white lies and sources of nutrition.

Video games gave me these memories. My memories are tied to these things.

Once upon a time video games didn't exist, but then they absolutely did. Then video games never really went away.


    Mark, your Game of Thrones stance aside, you do get kudos for The Wild Bunch!

      I was going to add, re Game of Thrones:

      We were filthy little pirates.

      Were? ;-)

    I think I'd have about five origin stories.

    The Christmas we got our NES.

    The camp trip where I met some kids who brought their Game Boys.

    Our primary school - as part of 'computer studies' - just made us play stuff like Granny's Garden, Commander Keen, Jara Tava, some off-brand Maniac Mansion thingy, Sim Farm, the list goes on.

    As with most children whose parents only felt comfortable with computers once Bill Gates and Microsoft introduced Windows to them in the 90s, my earliest memories of home PC gaming were shareware disks - Doom, Rise of the Triad, all the Apogee stuff.

    That's what is lost these days during video-games discourse. We all got bitten by the bug at some point, why can't we celebrate the differences instead of fighting over them?

    I remember I was 5 and playing Silent Service 2. My grandfather was shaking the chair as I got bombarded with depth charges. Video games have never been so real as they where back then.

    I had a VC 4000 for ages, and a heap of mates were rocking Atari 2600 systems during those times. A cartridge of that era could take far more punishment than our little pre-pubescent bodies could dish out, and then some.

    Those days are sadly gone, but the feels are still there. Good times. <3

    finding pornography stuck in a hedge and being truly, viscerally terrified of vaginas.

    And then his back became one...

    Man, TDK was the best game ever. Should be on everyone that played that era's Top 10 list...

    For me, games started with the Apple 2, but really came into their own with the Vic 20. Godfather had an Apple 2, but didnt get much chance to play on it, but I was staying with an aunt for a while and their Vic 20 was readily available. Cant remember what I played, but I do remember there being a video poker game that was hard coded. So my aunt had figured out a precise way to clock up the maximum amount of chips in about 6 hands.

    For my own stuff, the C64 was the first thing I owned myself, then an Amiga. From then, the rest is history.

    Anyone else remember hand keying the machine language for games from magazines? Imagine getting a kid to do that today in the era of cut and paste...

      Yeah Commodore 64 was my first computer. Our family had some bizarre IBM PCjx which appeared to be incompatible with any of the pirated software that was floating around on our XTs at school. When I got my C64 I was super stoked, but the prices for software were very high and I could only afford the odd game (or games pack!)

      Yup - i remember borrowing those programming books from the library and making "games" for my apple IIe Euro Plus.. that used to blow sparks from the exhaust port on the back.

    Afterburner in the video arcade, sitting in the pilot's seat that shook and moved as you fought and flew. They only had that in the fancy arcade in the Big City. Visiting the city was like visiting the future.

      I miss arcades - even though I'd be the creepy old man in them if they were still around

      Ahh yes, I remember those and even back then being way too tall for the bloody things. I was stuck with the Star Wars one but that's okay because it had lasers which makes everything more awesome

    This is beautiful Mark, you should be a writer! :-D

    Very entertaining read. I really enjoyed it. In some ways reminds me of my childhood with the swearing and naked ladies..... I'm happy to say that vaginas don't scare me, I truly hope the author was able to overcum his fears! Vaginas went there and then they were.....

    I struggle to remember a time without videogames. I can remember when I first got my NES, and sitting on the loungeroom floor with the rest of my family as it got set up. As far as I can figure without breaking out photo albums to verify, it would've been Christmas 92. I remember discussions in the playground about which of our friends got the NES and in what order, and the funny way that the same order broke out with the SNES. And I can remember my first time playing a NES at one of their houses. But I think even before then me and my sister were playing DOS games on the computer at home? Most of them pretty basic/educational type games aimed at young children. It's all so intermingled with no sense of what came before which, no clear-cut divisions. Video games just always kind of... were. Only getting stronger as time went on.

      Yeah, Adventures in Math!

      I knew all the castles inside out by the time I was done with that game.

        A couple of years ago I found the box of floppy discs that had all our old games on them, gave them a run through DOSbox. Couldn't actually remember how to work most of the older ones, or figure them out either. Especially exiting them. Was it ctrl+c? Ctrl+x? What were the obscure go-to commands of the day that in no way match up with what we use now??

        The stone age was a weird place.

        I was more of a googol maths games person myself

    Good old spectrum, had one of those, attempted to program stuff from a magazine. Probably would have been around that time too.

    I can't remember when video games "existed" for me. I remember early arcade experiences, mostly I remember a café in the blue mountains that had a space invaders machine. One of the old ones that was set into a glass-topped table. I remember the game boy existing seemingly alongside the NES and Master System.
    I remember going to my mother's friend's place and they had a Sega Master System I spent a chunk of the night playing Alex Kidd in Miracle World on. My mother went on to buy a Master System for Christmas - it might have been the same one, second hand from her friend, as the next time we visited their console was nowhere in sight and they now had a Commodore 64 with a box full of old discs that purported to have games on them, most of which didn't run.
    Somewhere in between my friends obtained an NES. When they told me their dad had bought a Nintendo I assumed they meant a Game Boy, but no, an NES that we spent endless hours on playing Super Mario Bros, Duck Tales, and The Flintstones until their mother forced us to go play outside where we set things on fire and went exploring the local sewer system with no regard for our own safety. It's possible I developed a mild sense of claustrophobia around this time but I'm not sure why.
    Later another friend obtained an Amiga PC with a tape drive. It took 20 minutes to load Gunship 2000 but by golly when it did my mind was blown. My uncle bought a PC and mainly used it for the rudimentary internet that existed and to play a strategy title called Harpoon 2. Due to the game's system requirements there was an odd quirk in the game where if you sped up time to make it pass more quickly the game would start running so slowly performing the calculations as to what would occur in say 6 hours as opposed to 15 minutes, that it was actually faster to leave it on the lower speed setting and watch events play out in slightly faster than real time.
    A couple of years on I obtained my own PC and shared games with my friends. Crapware and shareware games abounded, usually on "demo" discs that game with new PCs or hardware. I'd play competitively with my friends crammed around a keyboard after school, or compare high scores. My uncle bought a joystick to better play Sid Meier's Stealth Fighter F-117A Nighthawk 2.0 and that came with two "demo" discs thrown in. One was the first three levels of Rebel Assault II which I played ad infinitum until I memorised enemy locations and could blitz it with a perfect score and no damage.
    The other was The Dig. Because it was a demo disc I kept waiting for the game to end. Surely when I set off the nukes to put Attila into orbit, the game will end. No? Now I'm inside the asteroid. Surely when I activate this alien device the game will end and prompt me to send a cheque or money order for a full version of the game as it had with Castle of the Winds, Major Stryker and Duke Nukem. But the demo didn't end and I completed the full game and one of the most epic science fiction stories ever told over one glorious weekend that still stands out in my memory.
    I might have been gaming on and off as early as 1989, at a guess. But the moment I really became a gamer was sometime in 1996 when I finished The Dig for the first time.

      Ahhh "the dig"

      Every now and again I still use the line:

      "Oh, that was a joke.........ha."

    I remember the days before video games ... then those days passed into glorious VIC20 -> C64 -> Amiga 1000 -> DX4-100 and then onward and upward and no looking back!

    Man, this article is like Irvine Welsh wrote a video game article. Great stuff and nailed the nostalgia. I had a Vic 20 and I can still remember my dad looking at me as if I was from outer space as I punched run commands up on the TV, the big keys clunking away like industry. Everything about hardware was big and clunky back then though, right? Like it had just been shipped to you from some Cold War Era black market of de-militarised electronics components. It felt like we were being coaxed into the realisation of how important this stuff would eventually become.

    I can hardly imagine the disappointment when finally plugging into a colour TV, only to find the sad, sad version of 'in colour' that was the ZX Spectrum....

    Xmas 1984 and the Commodore 64 ! My 8yo mind blown with the bundled International Soccer on cartridge no less in all its isometric Sprite glory. Beating my dad at that game never got old....beaten by my older sister, not so much.

    Good story... for me, video games ALWAYS existed. My very earliest memories were at an uncle's house playing his Intellivision.. then that was followed by our family getting an Atari 2600.. I remember the day I got my first dual-cartridge game for Atari 2600, it was Barnstorming and Joust, both completely awesome games with Joust still being one that is lauded in movies and gaming lore alike to this day.

    Sometime in the early eighties, most likely 1981, we got a Vic20. That system also used cartridges as well as tapes. My dad was an electrician and knew people who had the skills to make their own printed circuit boards. One of these was a 4 cartridge adapter. So we would just have 4 cartridges plugged in at the same time and used a switch to pick which one we would play. In addition to that, we started to program our own games.. that was when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I was programming, debugging and playing my own games at the age of 6... lol.

    So for me.. they always existed.. I can't remember a time in my life where there wasn't some possible avenue of gaming.

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