For as long as I’ve kept track of it, the age of the average gamer has been the same as my own – 37 this year, according to the ESA. And I’m proud! I’ve grown up with games. Once or twice I’ve told myself that I’ve “outgrown” games. And now here I am, spending a good chunk of my life writing and thinking about games, and come to find out I’m normal.
In honor of being perfectly average I thought I’d give a quick rundown of the highlights in my gaming life. This is a timeline of the games, electronic and not, that meant the most to me from the ’70s to the present – as well as a couple of major omissions. I’m not a typical gamer, and I spent way too much time on certain obsessions while totally missing seismic shifts like, oh, Nintendo. But even if I’m not typical, I am average.
December, 1973 – I was born. How awesome was that?
~1978 – Pong My neighbor bought a Pong home console, one of the very first home videogame systems. I seem to recall it cost about $200, and it came with three hardwired game modes. (No, there were no cartridges. Are you kidding me?) He hooked it up to his TV by tying a wire to the connector for the antenna and switching it to Channel 4.
Early 80s – Arcades … like the Aladdin’s Castle at Liberty Tree Mall. I would go in there and waste my whole allowance in half an hour. I loved videogames, and they hated me.
1983 – Pac-Man I was obsessed with Pac-Man. I made drawings, I memorized the “winning” paths in walkthrough books, I lived and breathed Pac-Man.
I was never any good at it.
Early to mid ’80s – Apple //c Oh man … finally I could play Infocom games, Ultima II – V, um … Eamon … some sidescroller called Captain Goodnight? Some kid in third grade traded that to me for Choplifter. I kept dozens of floppy disks in a smoked plastic container, and they were full of weird little games I had traded with friends at school. But I always bought the Infocom and Origin games. I hung that cloth map of Britannia on my closet door for years!
1985 – Super Nintendo I never had a Nintendo. I mean, come on. They were for kids.
1987 – The end? I stopped playing games when I went off to high school and college. I was busy studying, and reading, and not dating. I didn’t have time for games, well, except for …
1991 – Tetris I swear to you for a week or so, I was the office champ at the Chicago Maroon. I still remember hanging around the office during finals week, setting a high score and drinking Black Label. The version I played on the Mac had a soundtrack of Russian folk music and a sample of Bill Pullman’s “Game over man!” from Aliens.
1993 – ZenMUD My only experience with an online multi-user dungeon came when I was wandering around in a Telnet client during the night shift at the Oriental Institute. I found ZenMUD, and the instruction story told me I should log on and not type anything. (Zen, get it?) I lasted a minute.
1996? – Duke Nuke’m The office LAN FPS of choice. We would play ’til 4 AM in a dark office and then go next door to the IHOP for breakfast.
2000 – Baldur’s Gate II I picked this up on an impulse. It had been a while since I had played a game – well, I did try Half-Life – but anyway, I had landed in a dull corporate job and I needed to kill time, and I was at the Burlington Mall and I thought, hey, what’s up with computer games lately? Oh … they got really good.
2001 – Planescape: Torment and Grim Fandango Oh shit – they got really really good. And finally people are making games I can beat.
2005 – Xbox With my first and only kid on the way, I asked my wife for an Xbox for Christmas. I was busy writing about music in all my spare time, but I made time for Halo, Mercenaries, and Burnout: Takedown. I wrapped up Fable right before we went to the hospital.
2010 – Machinarium The first game my kid and I ever played together was Machinarium. He loves videogames. And he’s almost as lousy as his old man.