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Why I love the Atari 2600 so much

April 1, 1998

I remember vividly all the fun I had with the Atari 2600. Right now, thanks to the wonders of emulation, I still play it once in a while. Why do I love it so much, even though much better consoles are now available? I thought for a while, and came with the following answers:

The first, and more important one, is that it was the first console I had. It was also the first successful console there was up to that time. Therefore, everything was new, so I could be more easily impressed than now. At this point in time, after playing video games for fifteen years, all I see when I get a new console is relatively minor improvements compared to the console I had before. Take the Saturn, for example. When I first bought it and played Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Cop, and Daytona USA, I realized that it was ten times better than the Genesis, which was a very good accomplishment in and of itself. However, the gameplay wasn't much different than the Genesis games I bought before.

On the Atari 2600 it was another story. Since the video game industry was so new, it was easier to innovate than it is now. For example, a game like Pitfall! was very original because there were almost no action games for the 2600. Plus you also had to take into account the time limit of the game. So was Adventure, which if it were made using today's technology, it would probably be a Full Motion Video game with computer-generated characters. At the time, however, a game like that, on which you have to move through a very large (at the time) maze, manipulating objects in order to accomplish a goal (retrieve a magic cup), with emphasis in strategy instead of fast reflexes, was unheard of. The fact that it had a secret room was also new.

Another reason for this fondness is called nostalgia, pure and simple. When I play these games again I don't play them for the incredibly dated and simplistic graphics. I don't see these graphics anymore. All I do is remember a time on which life was simpler, when I could still be amazed, and when I had less responsibilities than I do now (I now have to worry about finding a job, paying my student loans and the rent, and saving for retirement). This simplicity can also be applied to the games themselves. The games on the 2600 were, for the most part, simple games that could be learned without reading the manual (I always did anyway). And you could not press the wrong button because the 2600 only had one. Unlike current consoles, which sometimes make me believe they have "too many buttons".

Finally, something that I didn't realize until recently was that one of the reasons I like the 2600 so much is because of the amount of shooters that were available for it. Of course, the developers didn't know how to do much else at the time. The Genesis, on the other hand, had tons of action games. This made me appreciate previous shooters more. I took for granted games like Centipede, Galaxian, Demon Attack, River Raid, Space Invaders, Megamania, SeaQuest, Phoenix, Berzerk, Chopper Command, Vanguard, and Spider Fighter until they became difficult to find in future consoles.

By the way, if you look at the last paragraphs again, you will see that most of the old console games that I still play are games that cannot be played on any other platform except on the one for which they were created. I mean, why would I play Ms. Pac-Man on the 2600 if I can play the original through emulation? Which makes me think that a console is only as good as its exclusive games...


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