Now that I’m settled in my new home, more or less (don’t ask about all the boxes stacked up in our office/guest room), I want to wrap up all my obligations for this summer’s Talking Time fundraiser in short order. So! Let’s work through some of those blog obligations. Blogligations? No, no. That is a terrible portmanteau that exists at the opposite end of the spectrum from “euphonic.” I’m very sorry.
By request from Chuck X: The first game system I owned.
This is a surprisingly difficult topic to pin down, because I can think of several “first systems” my family owned.
The first that we ever had in our house, period? That would be the Coleco Telstar, a four-in-one dedicated Pong clone system. Since it hailed from the late ’70s, it had four different variants on it rather than being vanilla 1975 Pong. I don’t remember them all, but I do know one variant was Jai Alai. For some reason, I somehow got this mixed up with Mahjong, which caused me no end of confusion for most of my young life, as I grew up thinking mahjong was a kind of table tennis. I’m pretty sure this is because of newspapers, which are evil. I used to read each and every item on the comics page as a kid, even the serial comics I didn’t really get, and one of them was Steve Roper & Mike Nomad, which featured a Chinese landlady named Ma Jong. I somehow conflated her name with the Telstar mode Jai Alai — they both sounded foreign and I had a J in them, I guess. Look, I was like five years old, OK?
Years later, in college, I was hanging out with a Singaporean friend and we stopped in a Chinese restaurant after hours so she could pick up something from one of the employees there. She took me into the back room, where the staff was sitting around playing some kind of aggressive tile-based game. When she told me that was mahjong, I felt like the world had fallen out from beneath my feet.
Anyway, the Telstar was exactly as you’d expect. It played a couple of variants on Pong in black and white with raw electronic sound effects. There may have been a color feature, come to think of it, but at the time we only had a black-and-white TV. I’m not entirely sure where we acquired the Telstar, but I know it passed into our hands for free in the early ’80s; I think a college student abandoned it, the thing being grossly outdated by that point.
However, the first game device that my family specifically bought for our amusement (rather than lucking into) was Epoch Man, an LCD handheld Pac-Man ripoff by Japanese electronics manufacturer Epoch. It was basically a Game & Watch, with a few dozen silkscreened positions for the characters around the screen (and some clever chicanery, like a bridge that you could duck beneath to add more play variety without cramming in more screen characters). It was fairly simple, and I remember playing it quite a bit — enough so that I could max out the score to 999 points without too much effort after a while. My parents seemed impressed the first time I did that, apparently not realizing that children are nothing if not idiot savants at video games. I still have one of these — a different one that Jess Ragan was kind enough to send along a few years back. I haven’t had the heart to put a new battery in it, though. I have a suspicion it wouldn’t hold up well.
The first proper game system my family bought was a ColecoVision with the ADAM expansion kit. This was well after the infamous video game crash, so we picked up the whole set for a song. My parents were mainly interested in it for the sake of using it as a computer, and I certainly did make use of its art program, but mostly I was drawn to its value as a video game device. After all, the ColecoVision served as the heart of the system, and it could play both cartridge- and cassette-based games. After years of being stymied, I could finally play a pretty good version of Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. at liberty. I also picked up Zaxxon, and Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom came with the ADAM portion. And… that was it. Money was kind of hard to come by for someone as young as me, and games for the system had more or less evaporated off the market by the time we bought in. I should go back and check out some of the Coleco games I gazed at longingly in the software catalogs but could never own.
And the first game system I bought for myself with my own money? My brother and I went halfsies on an NES. I feel like I’ve written about that one before, though. It was pretty decent.