Video Games: My Personal History and Recollections

Do you advocate playing video games in education?

We should talk more about our own life experiences as part of this conversation.

I have been reflecting on my video game playing past and finding it interesting to try and remember what was played and when. I thought I would share this with you in the hope that others would post or comment with their own personal histories in respect to video-gaming. I have a favourite books page above, so this post is my nod to video games, in the widest sense of the term (perhaps stretching that definition too far).

My context, which is important for those reading this list of games, is that I was born in 1968, the eldest of three, and resided in mostly regional and rural areas of NSW with completely non-techy parents. Dad (b. 1936) is and always has been very anti-technology. He was a reader and that was his gift to me.

Late 1970s

The first time I came across video games was in the last years of primary school.

  • Pong: played my first game at Shaun’s house. His father managed a Tandy’s store so he was ‘with the program’ as far as 1970s Dads go. There was a bunch of kids jostling to play his ‘Atari’ and as you can imagine, it was cool when no-one else was visiting Shaun. I did have a natural advantage living two doors down the road though.
  • Space Invaders: like every other kid in the late 70s and early 80s I wanted to go to ‘the shops’ to play this gaming craze. My Mum felt that pinball parlours’ were dens of iniquity so my visits to ‘proper gaming palaces’ were very limited. I still have the image of kids, with their coins stacked high, destroying the aliens with countless corner shop owners going mad listening to this new noise.
  • Asteroids: kinda annoyed me actually but I did play it far too much for something that did not really do it for me.

Early 1980s

  • Galaga: was the first game I ever really loved and it makes me feel happy just thinking about it.
  • MoonCresta: I think it was the pressure of docking that roped me in.
  • Game & Watch: Octopus, Parachute (which I loved), Popeye, Fire and Donkey Kong were handheld games popular in early high school. These games were shared plenty, especially at recess and lunch and I guess we were the first generation to have this experience, now so central to childhood play.
  • Frogger: was a strangely alluring game.
  • Pac-man was omniscient in this period and I played it, mostly at Shaun’s.
  • Time Pilot: was an all time favourite for a Dr Who and Biggles fan like myself. This was a really cool game.

There is a large gap in my game-playing timeline (1985 – 1997). From my last years of high school, university and travelling I played virtually zero video games for a range of reasons. I had sport, part-time jobs, girlfriends, was working myself out and was never home. No-one I knew had a computer or consoles at uni. The two years I taught at rural school was the exception in this period. Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? was a game I played as the school owned it. I also checked out the earlier version. In this period I read avidly – as I always have done.

Image Credit

Late 1990s – 2006

This is really the period when the internet started to fascinate (read obsess) so many of us. I was never really that interested in computers, hardware or software until the internet (although I did do computer courses in mid-80s at school). The computer, for me, is synonymous with access to the internet with hypertext propelling one into new worlds and experiences. This led me to new gaming experiences but when I was first online, at home, MOOs and MUDs interested me greatly, although became strangely unsatisfying measured against my expectations. I tried Lambda Moo and something else which for the life of I cannot remember. Indra Sinha‘s novel, The Cybergypsies really captures what was so alluring and mysterious about the idea of these  spaces. I was trying to understand online communities at the time and became a member of The WELL but was too inexperienced and contextually out of my depth to get it. I did have good experiences with a range of communities that were fore-runners to the advent of web 2.0. I was particulary sad when this one became a victim of the dot-com bubble bursting.

As an English teacher, I became interested in the opportunites a new syllabus presented for exploring different kinds of texts. Patchwork Girl became a prescribed text for the New HSC. Listening to Stuart Moulthrop speak and exploring his work was a revelation at the time. Twisty Little Passages is worth reading, if you were at all interested in hypermedia, as English teachers with an interest in the future of texts often were.

Before Children (BC) I regularly played turn-based and real-time strategy games on PC. My all-time favs were Shogun: Total War and Caesar III but Civ II and Age of Empires were the original games that occupied many hours and led me to share enthusiasms with students in a lunchtime gamers club at school (where I first learnt about ‘cheats’ and the kids about anachronism in games). I liked flying sims too, especially The Red Baron but have to admit that my life-long enthusiasm for military history has led me to play many games in this genre with names like: Panzer General 3D Assault, Hannibal and Command & Conquer. I also played many other games that were clones or sequels to the games mentioned. These included: Alpha Centauri, Rome: Total War, Medieval: Total War, Cossacks and Rise of Nations.

The first console I ever owned was an xBox. Of the many games I tried, the various Medal of Honour titles and Return to Castle Wolfenstein occupied most of my time. However, I always have felt disappointed that real-time and turn-based strategy games were not available on this platform.

MMORPGs: I started playing MMORPG World of Warcraft briefly in late 2005 but preferred the gritty realism of European Battleground, which I really did invest significant amounts of time each evening playing with a squad, using TeamSpeak. I gave these games up on the birth of my second child and appointment as a deputy principal at my current school in late 2006. I just did not have the time.

More Recently (Post 2006)

Many of the games I play nowadays are to share with my daughters.

Wii: the kids like playing on this platform - especially games like iCarlyPrincess: Enchanted Journey, Wii Sports and Scooby Doo - but it does not really appeal to me, except for The Endless Ocean and maybe, The Sims II: Castaway. Of course, I had to play these games lots when they were first learning.

Playstation 3: Civilization Revolution (which is on our iPad too) and LittleBigPlanet are the kids’ favs and I occasionally delve into some first-person shooter mayhem with Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway (which has quite an interesting narrative structure) or the Call of Duty franchise which is fantastic. Tried some of the other football games like FIFA 10 but they never engage me for too long.

PC: I was really excited before Spore was released but the game failed to excite. The kids and I made some cool creatures but we all soon lost interest. We have the game on the iPad too. Caesar IV and Civilization V are both pretty ordinary (see Downes) but also soak up far too much time for me to really get into them when they are not that great.

iPad and iPhone: The game we have all played more than any other, with some belly laughs along the way, is Plants vs. Zombies, our family favourite by a long way. The kids really like Nanosaur 2, Angry Birds, Cro-Mag, Ninja Adventure and Warship (which is old-fashioned Battleship). Increasingly, you’d be surprised to hear, there are minor disputes about who is going to have the iPad.

Every time I read Dean Groom’s blog the temptation to re-immerse myself in online and startegy games is great. I just am not prepared to spend the time atm but know that will change some time in the future when Misses 7 and 4 are a little older.

I must admit, that I will download Shogun 2 via Steam when it is released in March, desperately hoping it does not disappoint.

Image Credit

What is your video game-playing past?

*Pong image credit

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The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

7 Comments

  1. Gaming (ancient) history: Endless Pong with big brothers, as a kid in the late 70s, followed by tabletop Spaceys instead of 3 Unit Maths in 1983. Eventually married a former NSW Space Invaders champion!
    Had a brief obsession with Sonic the Hedgehog during my 20s then, a couple of year’s later, complete fascination (and frustration) with Myst whilst working as a graphic designer in the mid-90s. Lost interest thereafter, maybe around the time of getting married?
    Now play board games, instead, with my own kids though we briefly flew around Pixie Hollow on the Disney website last year. Latest favourite board game is Ropes & Rockets (Toy Story’s version of Snakes & Ladders).

  2. Unkle Cyril:

    You never encountered the Dick Smith Wizard?

  3. I was forever dragging my mum or dad into a “video arcade” so I could stick 20 cents into a pinball machine. I remember one day in particular (I was about 10) on Manly wharf, where there was a prehistoric flight sim – it was a really cool analogue machine, where turning the flight wheel brought your fighter’s gunsight to bear on model bombers in the back of the machine. Sound effects and flashing lights, yammering guns and the wail of crashing planes really captured my imagination.
    From there the memories are like a series of milestones: the local fish and chip shop near my school had a table top PacMan. Many Yr11 lunchtimes spent there. Debates with my mates about the differences, pros and cons between Galaga and Galaxian (“being captured and having double guns is MUCH cooler”). My first experience with a games “console” at uni, when I played “Bryan Cloughs Soccer Manager” on a Commodore 64 (with cassette player for data crunching!). It was a blend of tech and traditional board game – you played with monopoly money to buy and sell players, but the computer decided winners and losers and other random aspects of football life. So Cool!
    I’ve learned a lot about productivity on PCs from playing games. On a Mac Classic I played a submarine simulator from dusk to dawn (literally) losing myself in the game. I also learned my way round the rest of the computer that way as well!. On my Mac LC3 I played “Hellcats over the Pacific” (another flight sim) incessantly. From then on its been consoles. My first was a Nintendo 64 (favourite game- Rogue Squadron); then the PS2 (favourite game – “Heroes over the Pacific”); then my son bought an Xbox 360 (favourite game – Heroes over Europe).
    We have a Wii as well, and when they make a flight sim for that, I’ll buy it!
    Reading back over this, I realise now that video games has been a way for me to experience aspects of something that was always a childhood (and present day) dream – to fly and be a pilot.

  4. Brendt Evenden:

    My list sounds similar to yours although i was born in the late 70s. My favourite game at the pinny parlour was Afterburner and my favourite games as a teen were Doom 1 &2 as well as the C&C franchise. Once i hit uni i stopped gaming until Diablo came along and took away hours from my academic schedule. I really like Deus Ex Machina 2 when i found out about it – and i’ve always been a sucker for Star Wars games, especially Jedi Academy. Rome Total War completely overtook my life before my son was born. I would read Plutarch and Cicero for fun when i wasn’t playing into the wee hours. Isn’t it funny how “one turn and then i’ll go to bed” never means that!?! I never got to play Medieval 2 but played 1 and i am lucky to be in a staffroom (english) with 5 other males a few of which are gamers so i keep up to date with them, not having time myself to play now that i have two children. I can’t wait til they are old enough so we can get a wii or similar. Thanks for the post, i am getting all nostalgic.

  5. Stu:

    You’ve already mentioned several of the usual suspects from the 70s and 80s, but I’d add Defender and the tabletop of Donkey Kong. When I moved to computers, I started off with Infocom’s text-based adventures: Zork, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Planetfall, then moved into Sierra’s graphic ones – King’s Quest, Space Quest and Police Quest series. Apogee’s Commander Keen, Duke Nukem and Cosmo were great platformers, but then they came out with Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Rise of the Triad and Duke Nukem 3D and I got hooked on first-person shooters, so much so that I never got into 3rd person shooters, no matter how popular they were. I played everything Half-Life (Opposing Force, Blue Shift) then came Medal of Honor and the Call of Duty series. And in there came the epic Half-Life 2. I’ve played all of these start to finish – many of them more than once.

    I only recently got a Playstation 3, but the kids enjoy it more than me. I’ve always preferred keyboard/mouse controls.

    What did I learn from all of this? Excellent hand-eye coordination and real-life problem solving skills. Gaming is a highly worthwhile activity with the right games.

  6. David Chapman:

    My game playing history started with games such as Asteroids – and appears to have been similar to your’s Darcy (I am a whole two years younger). University and shortly after saw me loving strategy based games – Warcraft II, the Civs etc…

    At some stage early in my career and parenthood I think I realised how much time can be burnt playing – and have made deliberate decisions to spend time reading or writing instead.

    However – I recognise that game playing is a massive interest for kids (and adults) and I have been able to construct a 4 week unit for my Year 9 English classes on that very topic. I have them analyse game genres – and then actually create some games.

    In an effort to maintain a healthy balance at home, my kids are limited to 60 minutes a day of electronic time (they almost always choose games on their laptops – never TV), but I never am quite sure if I should allow more or less.

    That being said – while I write this I have finally downloaded Minecraft in order to explore the worlds my boys love.

  7. Simon Hutchiosn:

    Being born in 71 I experienced the same games you mentioned Darcy. I particularly like the fact that someone else actually played Moon Cresta. What a game, I stole so much of my Dad’s sock draw coin to play that game. I have the MAME on my PC and a joystick to play that game still today.
    Can I add Double Dragon and Street Fighter to the arcade games. :)
    I went halves in a playstation 1 with a mate and played the daylights out of mortal kombat, tekken and TOMB RAIDER. I think I was in love with Lara Croft. I later bought a Nintendo 64 and played Golden Eye so much I even had sick days to play it against my house mates. Played Perfect Dark and a few other games also.
    I would like to add Generals and the expansion pack Zero Hour, starcraft 1 and 2, Tiberian Wars and Red Alert 3 to the RTS genre. I also liked the first person shooter games mostly like what Stu mentioned; Half life 1 and 2 and all the spin offs like Opposing Force and Counterstrike. Mates of mine and I often had LAN wars on a modded game called Firearms based on the half life 1 engine. I think it was the first to have capture the flag in a push point format. I moved onto Soldier of Fortune 2 Double Helix after that. That game was the game that introduced me to clans. I was in 4 different clans for that game and played on several gaming ladders including gamespace and gamearena. We also used teamspeak and ventrillo to communicate whilst playing before in-game voip was available. The fact that we could play as a team in an online game against another team was pretty awesome. None of the clans I was in ever really threaten the top teams but we had our own website and forum. I later designed the website and attached a php forum to one of the later clans I was a founding member of, so gaming pushed me into the online social media spaces and made me learn the workings of web design and php based forums and moderating. Taught me a lot actually, well I taught myself a lot and collaborated with others in the clan online to make it work. I was also a server mod in the gamearena ladder for SOF2 for a while, refereeing matches on the ladder and general moderation of servers kicking haxors and the like.
    I often used Hamachi (virtual LAN) too for the mentioned RTS games with mates. This taught me a lot about VPNs as the settings for Hamachi were often fiddly and didn’t work properly and as everyone knows when it doesn’t work in comes problem solving.
    I got right into FPS and played most of the Battlefield franchise games (clanned in BF2 and 2142) and Call of Duty games as well and still do now. I have been through all the major consoles and now have a xbox. Like Stu also I prefer mouse and keyboard to joysticks so I have got a device called a XIM3 which allows me to use them on the xbox…. hehe. Currently ranked Colonel on BF3. My gamer tag has never changed – ==]Darthnader> , LOL.
    As a teacher I have taught primary school students the skills I have learnt from gaming and also taught them how to design their own. I have a strong belief that gaming is it’s own educational pedagogy that benefits all that participate or contribute. As gamers I am sure you understand.

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