Playing 'old school' video games

Friday, January 13, 2006

The rain is falling. It's cold outside. Everyone has actually cleaned their room. What to do for the day?

One option is to drag out all the old video games systems that have been gathering dust in the basement. I'm still in a firm believer in the original systems and own an Atari system and the first Nintendo set-up. These 25-year-old systems may be all that is available in your house if you're like me and refuse to give into these "fly by night" systems such as PlayStations and XBoxes.

I refuse to try these new systems because my husband and I were once burned by the "latest and greatest" system. (Called the TurboGrafx16, it was supposed to have the best and most advanced technology with 16 bits of something or other. Today's systems have approximately 541 bits or something close.)

But the biggest problem was that no one else had ever seen this system -- outside of the store which sold it to us. We were never able to buy games from other stores. No one wanted to buy it from us when we were done with it. But most importantly, no one was impressed with our ownership of this system -- because no one ever had heard of it.

Instead, we've held onto our old video games systems which are now "retro cool." The oohs and aahs grew with each game that my son and his friends pulled from the box, primarily because they had never heard of them.

They didn't miss the blood and gore of today's video games. They didn't complain about the limited mobility of their characters on-screen. And not knowing if you're jumping on a dragon or a polar bear because the graphics are so primitive just added to the difficulty of the game.

The kids were even more impressed when I took over the game controller.

Inserting the original Mario Bros. cartridge, I whizzed through the first five levels, finding hidden coins and discovering magic powers. My kids oohed and aahed in the background, their jaws dropped in awe.

Of course, they thought I was like them and was picking up the controller for the first time. They didn't stop to wonder why we owned the system. They didn't stop to wonder why the label was faded and worn. They didn't stop to wonder if I had spent countless hours sitting in front of the TV mastering the first few levels.

Finally, I pointed out that I had played the game a "few" times and just happened to remember a few of the tricks.

Even if my household didn't still possess these old systems, we'd still be able to play all these old games thanks to the latest craze -- 23 games on one joystick. If you have ventured out of your front door, then you've seen these systems. Using one cord to plug into the television and a joystick, you can enjoy all your favorite "original" video games.

Of course, the system usually includes one game you love and 22 games you've never heard of. The manufacturers couldn't put all the most-popular video games on one joystick because then we wouldn't be forced to buy multiple systems.

Not that my family has purchased any of these new joysticks. The half-dozen we own have all been gifts from well-meaning family members, whose names I curse as I blow an hour trying to outmaneuver the ghosts on Ms. Pac-Man.

There is a final reason I refuse to purchase any of the new gaming systems:

You could waste away an entire afternoon and not even realize it. The desire to sit in front of the TV all afternoon playing a video game rather than doing something as a family or playing outside would be too strong.

That's why even the old systems don't remain hooked up to the TV on a regular basis. That's why they are boxed up after just a few plays by each person. That's why the box is put away in a corner of a closet in the deepest reaches of my basement beneath the entire family's supply of sleeping bags.

The pull of Dig-Dug is just too strong.

-- Ronda Graff likes to be considered retro-cool be-cause she still owns an original Atari and Nintendo, rather than for the real reason: She's too cheap to buy a new system.

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