When I was about 12-years-old (in 1978), my father bought me one of the most spectacular and expensive birthday presents I had ever received from him – an Atari video game system. What had made it so special was that my father was more of the frugal type especially when it came to getting gifts for me. With this gift, however, he really splurged and went over the top! Not even any of my girlfriends who came from good, married, stable families had one yet. It was the talk of the town and made me feel so special and loved.
Back then, video games were just coming out. There was no Wii, no X-box 360, and no Playstations. There was definitely no cable TV – only UHF and VHF. I think that Atari was the first video game system that worked in color, offered different game cartridges and had different controllers. There was no talk of too much computer or video game screen time rotting a child’s mind. It was pure unadulterated fun. Add to that the fact that my dad and I had something special we could do together during our weekly Sunday court appointed visitation day. We could take the Atari, cartridges and adapter with us over to my Grandmom’s house where we would spend the day playing. From then on, my dad never worried about what to buy me for Hanukkah and my birthdays. He would simply go to Sears (as brand names were never his thing) and pick out one or two telegame cartridges and/or new controllers to give to me. I always handled each component with the upmost care and respect as my dad insisted on it.
Each cartridge offered an array of new games and challenges to master! I’ll never forget my favorite cartridge – BREAKAWAY IV. It was an updated and radical version of Pong. There was a brick wall with six different color layers to break through: blue, yellow, aqua, orange, green and red. As you got through each layer, the ball would move faster and faster until it burst through the wall. Then it would go crazy and bounce on top of the wall too knocking the bricks away and making a distinctive pulsating beeping sound. Then you had to smash your way through a second screen’s wall to win. High score was 864. I remember that when it would snow and we had the day off from school, my friends, Sheryl, Sherryl, Abby, Debbie and I would sled until we were too tired and cold to move. Then everyone of the girls who were from more stable families would come to my apartment (as I was the only one who did not live in a house) for hot chocolate and to play Atari!!! Those were the days. My friend Abby even bugged her parents enough to buy her an Atari of her own. We became the staunchest Breakaway competitors.
Now I am a 40 year old woman with a 5 year old son of my own. There has been a lot of water under the bridge. I am no longer in contact with the Sheryls, and my father has passed on. But every so often, despite my husband’s pleas to throw out the old dinosaur because the technology is so antiquated that it doesn’t connect easily to modern tvs, I insist that he hook it up for me one more time just so I can feel special and loved by my father all over again. I try to break through the wall and get a high score as if my life depended on it. I am 12 years old and life is good and simple, as if getting the high score on Breakaway is all that really counts.
****Update – the old dinosaur is no longer connectable to the flat screen tvs we have. But I saw a new version for sale that had all the old games attached to it. I bought it for myself for Hanukkah and had my now 11-year-old son help me hook it up. Sometimes he even agrees to play it with me. Neither one of us has yet to master a high score of 864.