Whenever I write articles on this site, be they retrospectives, histories or whatever. I always look at the games and companies behind those games. It struck me a while back that I never explored my own gaming history. The consoles and computers I owned and played on, the games that shaped me into the gamer I am today. So I thought, why not take a trip through my own personal history of gaming? I actually started writing this article in late 2019. It is now (as of publishing) March 2021, so why the huge gap? Well, I’ll answer that at the end.
The first console we ever owned was the all-time classic, the Atari 2600. That wood-finished beast was a gaming cherry taking machine that a lot of people my age grew up with. Now, I can’t remember the first game I ever played, but the 2600 came bundled with a copy of Combat, so I’m assuming that was my first ever gaming experience. But I also remember playing Pong, Space Invaders and Asteroids on the console very early on too.
It was actually getting hold of games back then that was a big problem. Video games were a new ‘fad’ and many people didn’t think they would last (flash forward forty-years to a multi-billion dollar industry). Shops just didn’t stock any games like today. Now, you can get hold of the latest titles with ease. Digital stores, ordering online to have games delivered to your door, you can even get games in supermarkets these days. Pop out for a loaf of bread, some milk and the latest game release at the same time. But back in the ‘good ole days’, we didn’t have that luxury. Gaming shops hardly existed and if they, they were always several miles away, down a dodgy backstreet in a village several dozen miles away from where you lived. The post was another way to buy games. Send a postal order or check to an address at the back of some low-quality gaming magazine and in a short two to three weeks later, you’d have a copy of the game.
Anyway, the games I played on the 2600 were where it all began for me. Arcade classics such as Frogger and Pac-Man to some truly revolutionary titles like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pitfall! Just going back to Raiders for a second, that game really was ground-breaking at the time. You have to keep in mind that we were used to (often) single-screen, arcade-like games in which all you had to do was try for a high score. But then along came Raiders of the Lost Ark and everything changed. We had this open-world-like game with multiple screens, there was a plot to follow and even an actual end to the game too. It was packed with puzzles to solve and you really had to use the old noodle. Raiders was the bridge between those more simple arcade games and the more complex games we have today.
While we only had the one console to play on back then, fortunately, we had friends and neighbours who owned one of the other machines. So quite often, we would swap game consoles for a few days or weeks. We as a family may have only had an Atari 2600, but I got to play on pretty much all of the main consoles back then. We know someone who owned an Intellivision and a ColecoVision as an example, so I got to play on those too. Even though most of the main games were ported to each of the game consoles, there were a few exclusives the Atari 2600 never had or games that were just better. Games like Demon Attack, Dracula, Diner (an unofficial sequel to Burger Time), Turbo and Jumpman JR to name some of the best.
When the Atari 2600 was getting a little too old in the tooth, Mum bought me and my brothers a Commodore 64 in 1986. I’ve told the story of the first time I ever played on a C64 in my book MicroBrits, available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle. But there were so many other games worth looking at. For me, it was the C64 where gaming and I grew. While there were still plenty of amazing arcade-like games, developers really began to push what games could do. Innovation in gaming really kicked-off. Paradroid from the legendary Andrew Braybrook as an example, a game with highly unique gameplay. Wizball’s strange but wonderful take on the side-scrolling shooter. Or even the surreal The Sentinel from Geoff Crammond. The C64 years really opened my mind to more creative games outside of arcade ports. And again, thanks to friends, I got to play on all of the main machines back then.
We had a neighbour who owned a ZX Spectrum, so I got to play games like Skool Daze, Atic Atac, Knight Lore, Manic Miner and more. Then another neighbour had an Amstrad CPC and yes, I got to play games on that too. I really was quite lucky in that I was surrounded by gaming back then. I mean, one school friend owned a NES, while another owned a Master System. So I got the best of both worlds, I got both the computer and console games to play and was really spoiled for choice. When my older brother got his first job and his own money, he bought an Amiga 500 in the late-eighties. That jump from the 8-bit to 16-bit era was astounding and the newer, more advanced hardware brought plenty of new games with it. In fact, I think those Amiga years were perhaps my favourite of my entire gaming history. I still remember seeing that iconic Tutankhamun mask made using Deluxe Paint and being blown away by how real it looked. It was a huge leap forward from the C64.
Then there were the games. Of course, there were plenty of arcade ports as always, but it was when devs really pushed what the Amiga could do that impressed. Titles like Populous really got me into strategy games, Defender of the Crown opened my eyes to cinematic storytelling. The Secret of Monkey Island was and still is one of the finest adventure games ever made and then there was the mighty Lemmings, a simple puzzle game that was fiendishly tricky and addictive. I could fill up an entire article of Amiga games.. and I may just do that in the future. But for now, there are so many more machines and games to cover. Of course, as is tradition, I knew someone who owned an Atari ST back then, as well as having access to the Mega Drive and SNES too. I was neck-deep in games back in the nineties. My brother eventually upgraded to an Amiga 1200 a few years later, but the time of the home computer began to dry up as consoles became ever more dominant.
My older brother eventually moved out of the family home, but we remained close and I would often stay with him. And yes, there was plenty more gaming, especially by the mid-nineties. My brother bought both a Sega Saturn and a PlayStation as well as owning a gaming PC too. So I got to play pretty much everything. I remember playing Doom for the first time on his PC, it was awesome! I played Doom on his Saturn… and on his PlayStation too. I played Doom a lot, I still play it now. But aside from Doom, games like Virtua Cop, Duke Nukem 3D, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Panzer Dragoon, NiGHTS into Dreams, Tenchu, Tekken, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee and so many more great games. We’d moved by then and I was still living with Mum at the time, so I was no longer surrounded by the neighbours who had other machines I could play on. But I’d left school by then and was earning my own money and the first console I ever bought with my own money was the Nintendo 64. I had an old school friend who owned an N64 before I got one myself, so I got to play on it quite a bit before I had my own. Oh, how I remember late-night sessions on multiplayer GoldenEye (and other great Rare titles), the sublime 3D world of Super Mario 64 and the countless hours poured into Mario Kart 64 and so many more.
By the late nineties, I’d moved out of the family home (or more accurately, my Mum moved away) and shared a flat with one of my elder brothers, not the one who bought the Amiga and all that before, my other brother. Anyway, joining my N64 was a Dreamcast my brother bought, along with a PlayStation (before upgrading to a PS2 a few years later) and a PC too. Once more, I had plenty of games to play over multiple consoles. Eventually, me and my brother went our separate ways in the early two-thousands and got our own places. I tucked my N64 away in a cupboard and made way for a PC of my own and a PS2. It was when living in my own place with my own machines when I really got into some serious gaming. I guess I could tell the story of the first time I played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Living in my own place with my own stuff was quite liberating. I had pre-ordered GTA: SA, the first of the very few times I ever pre-ordered a game. The postman came in the morning and posted my copy of GTA through my letterbox, the noise of which woke me up (my bedroom was directly opposite the front door in my flat at the time). So I dashed out of bed, grabbed the package from the doormat and hurried into the living room. Oh yeah, I was naked at the time too, no time to dress when there was some Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to play. I tore open the package, pulled out my shiny new copy of GTA: SA and began to rip away at that annoying cellophane. Finally now free of its packaging, I opened the box and took out the DVD, pressed the eject button on my PS2… nothing. I pressed the power button… nothing. I pressed both the eject button and power button over and over… nothing. My PS2 had died on me.
So there I was, naked, with a copy of the newly released Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas around my index finger like a ring, while my other finger kept tapping away at the buttons on my dead PS2. I almost cried. Thankfully, there was an ASDA superstore a literal five-minute walk up the road. So off I went (after a quick wash and getting dressed) and bought a brand new PS2 just so I could play GTA: SA.
The next generation of consoles came around in 2005-2006. But I was quite happy with my PC and PS2, I didn’t feel any need to jump over to the next-gen for a while yet. But when I did, and despite not liking the original beast that was the Xbox, I went for the Xbox 360 over the PS3. Even now, the Xbox 360 is one of my favourite game consoles. It was also then when I upgraded from a standard TV to a lovely new HD one. That jump between resolutions was unbelievably impressive. I remember playing Dead Rising on my 360 using the older TV, then playing it on my new HD TV. It looked like a completely different game. Man, I loved that 360 console, despite the fact I got through four of them in total. You know…
Anyway, I stuck with the 360 for a good while, even after the launch of the next-gen. By then, I’d met my better half and we moved in together, so I wasn’t quite as ‘free’ as I used to be when living on my own. It was around 2015 when I began to think about upgrading to the newest generation of consoles and I was genuinely undecided between the Xbox One and PS4. It was after E3 2015 when two things were announced that helped me make up my mind. First, Fallout 4 was revealed as to be coming out later that same year. A quick aside, Fallout 4 is the only other game I’ve ever pre-ordered other than Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Also at that same E3, Microsoft announced that they would be bringing backwards compatibility to the Xbox One. That’s really what sealed it for me, I could still play (some) Xbox 360 games on a new console and not have two machines under my TV. So I ordered myself an Xbox One directly after E3 2015, a copy of GTA V, Batman: Arkham Knight and pre-ordered Fallout 4 (still not finished it even now). The just sat back and waited for my new console to turn up.
I’ve been enjoying the Xbox brand since then too. I upgraded to an Xbox One X on launch day, then got myself a Series X on launch last year. Which all brings me up to today. I don’t think of myself as an Xbox ‘fan’, it’s just more a case of certain circumstances that led me to sticking with the brand. I don’t really have that much time to game these days (family life, I have two young kids now, I write this blog and books, etc), so owning multiple machines as I used to is pointless. Then there’s the fact that the Xbox offers backward compatibility, so I can play older games without having multiple consoles under the TV. It’s more of an ease of use and accessibly thing over any brand loyalty. But that is (pretty much) my entire personal gaming history. From the Atari 2600 in the late-seventies/early-eighties right up to today. I’ve owned and played on pretty much all the major computers and consoles over the last four decades and enjoyed hundreds, thousands of games over that time too. And I never even got into arcades, that’s another article altogether.
And so after that trip down memory lane, on to why this took me around a year and a half to finish and publish. Well, it was while I was making a list of games I wanted to mention in this article when I came up with an idea for a new gaming book. A book I’ve been writing since the end of 2019. I’ll be published this June and available to buy from Amazon. Don’t worry, I’ll be making a post when it’s out and give more details too.