I don’t remember the first video game I ever played.
I have a vague recollection of my sisters owning a black-and-white, plug-into-your-telly console.
It was one of the ones with a load of different built-in games, all of which were Pong. Or, at least, Pong in all but name... Which seemed appropriate given that Nolan Bushnell's Pong was itself a rip-off of a 1972 game by Ralph Baer.
Table Tennis was part of the Magnavox's Odyssey system, who went on to win a court case against Atari - a case that hinged around Bushnell making the mistake of signing the guestbook at a demo showing of their ground-breaking machine. Unfortunately, the one-time licensing fee that Atari was forced to pay to Magnavox was small change next to the millions the company made from Pong.
I was never allowed to touch my sisters' game, though, and I actually don't ever remember my sisters - who are 8 and 10 years older than me - playing it either. What's more, I've never witnessed them playing a video game in the years since.
I'll let you draw your own conclusions, but my theory is that my parents took it out to "check it worked", broke it, and never got a replacement. Or wanted to play a cruel trick on me. Or were fencing stolen goods.
At some point my parents must've tired of my ceaseless begging, and bought me a plug-in-the-telly thing of my own to shut me up. It was, I recall, a Binatone, which had sufficient switches and buttons that it doubled-up nicely as the flight controls of the Millennium Falcon.
It also came with a light gun. I believe I may have discovered the first ever video game cheat, when I learned that it was possible to rack up an enormous high score by simply opening curtains on a bright day, and letting the sun shine on the TV. I've tried it since with Destiny. Doesn't really work, even if you do use mirrors.
ATARI SO GOODY
At some point, we got an Atari VCS. The 2600. A proper, cartridge-driven, console.
This was the dream. Real arcade games on your telly. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Battlezone (which - in the process - had gone from being a vector graphics work of beauty, to a bad acid trip in a cardboard box factory).
Not being a rich family, we used to go to a shop that rented Atari games. The place also sold fridges, ovens and washing machines, and had a selection of Betamax and VHS titles to hire.
One of these, was a film called The Goon Tube (or something similar) which I remember vividly, because the cover was a photograph of a flaccid penis, overlaid with a cartoon face. Even now, I subconsciously associate this image with Atari, and as metaphors go it worked very well for the Atari Jaguar.
There was something immediately magical, and simultaneously sort of rubbish about the 2600. On the one hand, playing "TV Games" at home felt like the future. At the same time, most of the games were borderline unplayable. Combat, Pitfall, Space Invaders - people forget their grinding slowness, now sufficiently distanced by time that their utter brokenness is diminished.
Raiders of the Lost Ark was a particular nadir, and by comparing the same scene - as depicted in the movie and in the game - we get a sense of the gulf between potential and realisation.
The game that everyone wanted for the Atari 2600 was The Empire Strikes Back. I never got it. They never had it in at the shop with the flaccid penis film, and we couldn't afford to buy it.
But I knew a boy who did have it.
He was Michael Conabeer, and he lived a few doors down from me, and I pretended to be his friend so that I could play his copy of that must-have game.
There was nothing wrong with Michael Conabeer, per se, but... well, he was the sort of boy who would invite you round his house, so that you could watch him urinate in a coal scuttle. Or take you into his parents' bedroom to show you what he claimed were his mother's sex toys, at an age where you never knew there were such things as sex toys. Or, indeed, sex.
His family also had an irritating habit of shortening the word radiator to "rad", which irritated me at the time, young as I was, and continues to press my buttons even more today.
"Ooh, it's a bit chilly. I think I'll put the rad on"... "I'm just going to bleed the rad"... "Somebody's pissed in the coal scuttle again. You know: the one we keep on the box of sex toys next to the rad".
A wholly unnecessary abbreviation, like curtailing like "totes" or "jel". If I ever heard someone say "I'm totes jel of your rad" I'd have to strangle them with their own intestines.
The Empire Strikes Back. I somehow managed to convince him to lend it to me. It was rubbish of course. I mean, it was an Atari 2600 game, and you played it with a joystick that was about as ergonomic as a cow's skull. Nevertheless, it was the closest - at the time - a boy could get to being Luke Skywalker. Specifically, an ageing Luke Skywalker riddled with arthritis.
Decades later I would be witness first-hand to the final fall of Atari... and it wouldn't be pretty.