The Brat Patrol | A Long Time Ago, In a Neighborhood Far, Far Away…

Video Games Change The Landscape

One of the most formative experiences in my childhood: my early exposure to an Atari 2600. My older cousin, Kyle had a few different video game consoles. Joey, a friend that traveled to Detroit from California every summer to visit his grandparents had a 2600 in both states! Enough of our friends had Atari consoles that we had regular opportunities to “rot our brains out” (as our parents put it).

Ah, the veritable Atari 2600, complete with woodgrain accents.

Ah, the veritable Atari 2600, complete with woodgrain accents.

The actual game itself wasn’t the main attraction. Heck, most games were merely a square darting around the screen avoiding other squares. When we played games as a group, it became a production. Alternate storylines to the game evolved: Activision’s Space Shuttle game grew to include mission control, mission specialists, and technicians, Missile Command became a life and death struggle between the US and the commies… which one should note was un-winnable.

The view from the Space Shuttle... according to Activision

The view from the Space Shuttle... according to Activision

Many early games relied heavily on the printed instruction manual packed with each cartridge wherein the back story was established and the difference between the all-too-similar bad guys was explained. The Nintendo Entertainment System was the first home console that actually had recognizable characters on the screen and a developed storyline that played out on your screen. However, we managed to establish one of the most critically panned games as our favorite: Gumshoe.

In the fall, we would go into hibernation mode. Sure, we would spend some time hiding in leaf piles, playing army, and digging up each others’ yards. But as the outdoor temperatures dropped, we found ourselves inside more often. One of the youngest members of the “Brat Patrol”, “C.J.”, had a Nintendo (which was still a relatively new gaming system). He had a few sports games for it, but the title that we all marveled at was “Gumshoe.”

The Nintendo “Blaster” was a light gun that had a simple camera that was able to detect flashing signals sent from the T.V. when the trigger was pulled. You would aim the blaster at the hapless “Gumshow” and shoot him to make him jump, as well as shoot oncoming projectiles, cars, bad guys, and (oddly enough) floating balloons. The game was horrible. It was the only Nintendo game I ever remembered to randomly lock up the console. We were luck if we made it through a few levels. However, we were held captive by the implied story line (we read the manual while waiting for our turn to play) and the prospect of firing a “gun” at the television.

We never spent much time playing video games, but when the weather was too hot or too cold, we would sneak inside for a few minutes of R.C. Pro-Am or Duck Hunt. Today, many kids spend far too much time isolated from each other or making “virtual friends” online via World of Warcraft or Halo. They let their game consoles do the imagining for them. Old school games forced you to imagine that a blinking triangle was your spaceship. Video games were novel enough that 6 or 7 of us could crowd into a den and just watch each other play Pitfall, then after 30 minutes-or-so, we ran outside and played it in real life… except with sprinklers for crocodiles
and each other for logs!

1 comment December 17th, 2008 by duane


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