I was sat thinking the other day about gaming throughout the years, something that I had been a part of since its inception during the very early 1980’s. Today gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry; it has made its mark on our societies more so than ever, probably due to the advent of cheaper console systems today that a majority of our households contain, or at least most will have a home computer. I have watched also how technology has improved our gaming experiences and the direction it has led too, and I would argue that it has reached a pinnacle over the past few years, what with the rise of high speed internet allowing the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) to dominate, such as World of Warcraft which allows gamers to interact with each other across the world. Advanced gaming consoles such as the XBOX and Playstation, along with their relative cheap price, have made gaming accessible to almost everyone, with such a wide variety of differing genres.
For me, it all began during the very early 1980’s. My first gaming system that I owned which was brought for me by my Mother and Father as a Christmas present was the old Atari 2600. A chunky system utilising some very clunky, blocky graphics were its signature, but despite that, back then when I was an eleven year old boy, really kept me hooked; I thought it was fantastic. The game cartridges were very expensive even for those times, although I do remember that sometimes my Mum would find special offers in our local supermarket which was a blessing due to the prices of a new cartridge. Also I used to rent them from our local video store. I remember playing all the usual titles, such as Pacman, Indiana Jones, Space Invaders, Pitfall et al, which I spent many hours on. This was in many ways the dawn of console gaming, the beginning, all stemming from the game ‘pong’, which made Atari back then the forerunners of video gaming.
Later, as the trend wore off, my friends all started buying the Sinclair home computers, and starting with the ZX81, I too was brought one. These small black boxes utilised a 3MHz processor, but were an incredibly basic system. There were games, again with very blocky graphics which, if you coded your own game in BASIC, one of the early programming languages, could take absolutely ages to type in. The system had a measly 1k of system memory that, if you purchased a memory pack which plugged into the back of the machine, could expand it up to 16k. If we look at our modern PCs today, with their 4 Gigabytes worth of memory for an average system, then the memory needed back then was absolutely miniscule. All the software for it came in audio cassette tape format, so you needed a cassette player to plug into the side, and some games could take a very long time to load, even up to thirty minutes and that was no joke. As a youngster however I was more concerned with the games for the old ZX81 rather than learning BASIC, although I knew a bit about that too. Games for this system that I do remember fondly were Flight Simulator, 3D Monster Maze, and a few text based adventure games which I loved back then.
Fast forward a couple of years and Sir Clive Sinclair releases the ZX Spectrum, so named because this larger, neater system utilised colour graphics, sound and much larger system memory. You could buy it in two flavours, 16k or 48k worth of RAM. My parents brought me for Christmas 1983, the 48k version. Again, as the ZX81, it was programmed using BASIC, which I knew a little of back then, but, for my sins, I mainly used this machine as a gaming system, as did most of my peers. And what a selection of games were produced for it? As well as being a home computer, it was predominantly a gaming system; utilising more advanced technologically than the old Atari 2600, the gaming industry really began to take off during these years, with many software houses springing up, some of whom are still around today, such as Activision. It has been said that with the advent of the ZX Spectrum the UK IT Industry really took off, and most certainly the gaming industry really started with these small beginnings; a 3MHz, 48k system. The graphics, compared even to some of the coin-operated video games you would find in amusement arcades and such like, were pretty spectacular for such a small machine, and there were many, many games developed for both the Commodore 64 and the Spectrum. My fondest gaming moments were with the graphical/text adventure games, such as The Hobbit, which greatest challenge, rather than solve the puzzles, were finding the correct ‘phrase’ to use to progress. That in itself made the game hard. There were whole load of different gaming genres as well, from early strategy games, action platform games, adventure games, simulators etc, but no first person shooters really back then, which was quite interesting. Fond memories however I have from those adolescent years.
I stopped gaming from around 1987. I never used a personal computer until 1993, when I purchased a second hand old Amstrad 286 machine that I used predominantly for college work and word processing. With the advent of Intels Pentium, Microsofts Windows 95 and the rise of the Internet, the IT Industry I suppose was given a new lease of life from the mid 1990’s onwards; the prices of personal computers started to decrease, which made them more and more accessible to most households. From this, gaming once again started to technically develop further, and fifteen years later I believe it has reached a high point, a zenith if you like, with, as I stated above, affordable high powered consoles, the development of the 3D Graphics card that now all home computers carry, and online gaming, allowing people to connect across the globe. Since the early 80’s, when I was just a mere boy, its development is astounding.