Memories From Gaming Past: A Trip Back to When it All Started
Updated: Apr 19
Tony from Podcasters United shares his gaming origin story, going all the way back to the Atari 2600 and a copy of an infamously bad game.
One of my earliest childhood memories is attempting to play Super Mario Bros. on the NES and meeting an immediate death as I walked directly into a bottomless pit, not at all understanding the concept of jumping or losing a life. I must have been four or five years old and I’m not quite sure how I found myself with the controller in my hand, but whatever the circumstances were it planted the seed of what would become a lifelong hobby.
Before I can talk about the Nintendo I need to take you back in time to when I was given the old Atari 2600 we had laying around as a hand me down to start me off, we had a ton of games for it that I am pretty sure came from bargain bins during the infamous gaming crash of 1983. Among all of those carts was one of the most infamous games of all time, the game that for decades has been blamed for almost single handedly destroying an entire industry. I am of course talking about E.T., a game often labeled as the worst game of all time and one that I have fond memories playing.
Now before you raise your proverbial pitchforks, I am not trying to convince anyone that E.T. is some kind of misunderstood classic, the game itself is a complete disaster and very much deserving of the title it has held for almost half a century. The gameplay is confusing, there were only a total of 7 screens or so to navigate through, you have a life meter that constantly ticks down with every step that you take, there are pits that you will constantly fall down if even a pixel of E.T.’s character sprite gets near them and the two enemies that are constantly chasing you are more of an annoyance than an actual threat. Despite all of that, there was something about the game that drove my overactive imagination absolutely wild.
In my mind, I painted a very mysterious world that was almost completely barren, with one of the only structures still standing that had any signs of life being Elliot’s home, and your only objective was to collect the broken pieces of your transmitter so you can phone home and leave the all but lifeless planet. As a kid this was the kind of headcanon I would create to make a game way more entertaining, especially one that was haphazardly thrown together and rushed to shelves in order to cash in on the holidays. I would eventually get an NES to call my own as I got a bit older, and the 2600 would be demoted to living in the basement, occasionally being visited on only the rainiest of rainy days.
Now that we can retire the Atari 2600, another fun little memory from my childhood is how I would hold the NES controller upside down while playing. My siblings and friends would always ask me how I could play games holding the controller in such a way and I would always just just shrug my shoulders never really questioning why myself. Thinking back about it now, I’m still not entirely sure about the why, but it became a little quirk of mine that I continued to do for years until one day I just didn’t anymore. Not that how I held the controller mattered in the slightest, although it did make entering the Konami code a challenge, but it wasn’t anything that caused any kind of handicap when playing a game.
Simon’s Quest is another critical game in my development as a gamer, it is a game I’ve always had a soft spot for. While the game is often considered a bit of the black sheep in the series, it was my first introduction to the Castlevania franchise and has remained a personal favorite of mine despite all of its flaws.
l found myself drawn into the gothic and macabre atmosphere, ghastly monsters lurked around every corner, the world you explored was filled with endless secrets and deadly traps. The towns you entered weren’t very welcoming, the townspeople were often cryptic and deceptive with the way they spoke to Simon Belmont, making the player feel as if they just did not belong there. This becomes even more apparent at night, when the towns are completely locked down and the player is unable to even seek the sanctuary of a church. This is the reason why I have always associated the song “People are Strange” by The Doors, with Simon’s Quest. I’ve always felt that the lyrics fit perfect with the overall mood that the game sets in, seeing the words "What a terrible night to have a curse” appear on screen always hit me with a sense of loneliness, because I knew that was when the streets were uneven, and faces came out of the rain.
While the NES did not receive the same fate as the 2600, it did play second fiddle when the SNES moved in and became more of a sidekick, watching from the sidelines waiting to be called in. I remember spending what felt like an eternity saving up money for the console and when the day my SNES finally arrived the excitement would be short lived. Unfortunately for me, I had to go to open house at my school that night, despite my best efforts to convince my parents otherwise. So instead of firing up Super Mario World for the very first time, I had to wait until the next day, since it would be well past my bedtime when we got home. It was only a minor inconvenience in the long term. I would hop on it immediately when I got home from school the following afternoon, but as a kid not being able to play with the shiny new toy you spent months saving up for was the greatest injustice of all time.
I don’t think Super Mario World needs any introduction, it is arguably the greatest platformer of all time and set a gold standard for the genre that many have failed to imitate to this day. It took the map layout introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3 and expanded on it tenfold, now giving the players a sense of freedom to explore to their hearts desire. The world comes to life more and more after each level you complete, with every new environment having its own story to tell. You are now able to revisit levels and fully explore them to find all of the secrets they may keep, it could range from hidden rooms filled with 1-ups, to unlocking secret levels that would unlock even more secrets for the player to discover. There was an open-endedness to it all, leaving you free to play through the game any way you wanted. It would be the only game for the SNES that I would have for a while, but at that moment it was absolute perfection.
There is a ton more I could go on about, like how I would set up the SNES on the small Sony Trinitron we had in the kitchen to play Street Fighter 2 and Mario Kart against my friends, staying up way too late playing Final Fantasy VI on school nights, trading my copy of Mortal Kombat 2 for A Link to the Past with one of the kids in my class, but this was just me taking a brief walk down memory lane. I hope that reading this helped bring back some forgotten memories of your own and I think it is always important to remember that every game holds some kind of special memory to somebody, even if it means finding some kind of beauty in something that others consider bad, because at the end of the day the only thing that truly matters is how a piece of art affects the individual.
About The Author:
Tony is a lifelong game collector, Batman fan and enjoyer of B-movies. He is also the co-host of the podcast PlayStation Rumble, alongside fellow PlayStation enthusiasts (and sometimes adversaries) Jamie and Joshua.
Podcast Twitter: PSRumble
Podcast e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Personal Twitter: TonyGearSolid