Gaming and eSports are very popular right now, especially Call of Duty shoot-em-up games and sports-focused games like NBA 2K20 and Madden NFL 20. That’s one reason why this week, Outsports is joining SB Nation and our sister sites in sharing stories related to video games.
Check out this list of the most popular games of the year (as of February) and, no surprise, not one of my favorite games is included. Not. Even. One.
That’s because all of my favorites were popular before the writers and editors of that magazine were born. More than likely, you also were not yet among us, but set that aside, so that you can learn about and enjoy the video games of yesteryear. When I wasn’t playing with my dinosaur, here are the games I enjoyed, as a young, closeted, transgender Mets and Islanders fan, growing up on Long Island.
“Beep. Beep, Beep. Brrrr!” Pong actually wasn’t the first video game, but Atari’s version was the first popular one. The idea of taking on a computer in a game of electronic table tennis was intriguing, and from the arcade to the home, Pong caught on fast.
For me, it was the answer to my prayers, although not right away: In 1972, I was 8 years old and known as the new kid in town with the thick Queens accent, with few friends and more than enough enemies. I was a nerd and a friend to the other friendless boys, a failure as an athlete, and a constant target of bullies who mocked my last name and called me a faggot. At that time, Pong was only available in bars and arcades, unless you had a Magnavox Odyssey system and that brand of TV. We didn’t.
But in 1975, when Sears started selling a home console of Pong, I was among the first to own one, and soon friends came calling. And when I was home alone, I could play against the computer to sharpen my skills. The game may be simple but the history of Pong is quite complex, and something few of us, even me, care to revisit, but you can learn all about it by clicking here.
You can also play Pong, online, by clicking here.
The Odyssey2: 1978
“Beep, boop, dadaaa!” My parents bought me this home system, a rival to Atari, when I was 14. Like Atari, the second-generation Odyssey2 played cartridge games, but it also boasted a computer-style keyboard interface. On every trip we made to Crazy Eddie’s electronics and appliance store, I tried convincing my folks to buy me a new game. This new Magnavox game no longer required that brand of TV, but its graphics were extremely crude representations of sports and other games, as you can see in this review, as well as in the simulated game below. In the Odyssey2, I had finally found an electronic equivalent of the Mets; they were just as bad on my TV as they were on the field.
Space Invaders: 1978
“Dum dum dum dum dum dum!” This Japanese shooting video game by Taito was developed by Tomohiro Nishikado, who counted among his inspirations the film, “Star Wars,” which had premiered just a year before Space Invaders hit the arcade. It would become an Atari home game in 1980.
“Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew!” Atari’s hit arcade game was my favorite of all the games in the game room at McGinnis’s restaurant, arcade and amusement park in Garden City Park. For years, our tradition would be for my parents to take us to dinner in the restaurant, then tell us to scram; they would give my sister and me a load of quarters to play in the arcade or ride the kiddie rides, while they enjoyed cocktails, dessert and coffee.
Despite its simple white on black imaging, crude graphics and minimal sound effects, Asteroids was a hand-to-eye-coordination challenge that captured hours of my attention and loads of my quarters. Read more about Asteroids and play online by clicking here. Below, a simulated game:
Pac-Man: 1980 and Ms. Pac-Man: 1981
“Wocka wocka wocka wocka!” Pac-Man was the arcade game that defined the 80s as much as Ronald Reagan, Madonna, Michael Jackson, “Back to the Future” and The Simpsons.
The iconic game was invented by Namco in Japan, where it debuted as “Puck-Man” in May 1980, and was released in the U.S. by Midway in October of that year, according to thoughtco.com.
“Puck-Puck” is Japanese for nom-nom, and that’s why this fun maze-chase — in which players try to eat all the fruits and power pellets — was called Puck-Man in Japan. But thoughtco.com says out of fear American vandals might change the names of the arcade consoles to “Fuck-Man,” the U.S. versions were instead called “Pac-Man.”
Pac-Man was conceived as a contrast to the violent themed games, such as Space Invaders, Tail Gunner, and Galaxian. The innovative idea to break away from the shoot-em-up style of arcade game spawned a huge success. By 1981, approximately 250 million games of Pac-Man were being played in the U.S. each week on 100,000 Pac-Man machines.
For me, the debut of Ms. Pac-Man the following year gave me, at age 17, an imaginary transgender role model. Most gamers figured she was just Pac-Man’s girlfriend, but to me, she was Pac-Man finally coming out and claiming her authentic gender. Something I never imagined I would do, 32 years later!
And that’s pretty much when I stopped playing video games. I graduated high school in 1982 and my focus shifted from the arade to my college studies, concentrating on journalism. As a mom, I’ve been in plenty of arcades since then, but it’s me handing out the quarters now instead of plunking them into slots. And games nowadays cost a helluva lot more than 25-cents.
P.S. I never owned an Atari, but it appears this month Atari fans will be getting a blast from the past. Read all about it here.
What video games are your favorites? Tell us in the comments!