However, I was, and still am, a technophobe. I never copied a game for anyone else - that seemed like an excessive level of faff - but I certainly found myself giving tapes to classmates so they could copy games.
Everyone else was doing it... why shouldn't I? But somehow, having pirated games devalued them for me.
I had a C180 a friend had given me, which contained dozens of games - The Hobbit, Deus Ex Machina, Pimania and others - and none of them gave me the same buzz as buying a game, or receiving one as a gift, in the original packaging. It stripped them of some of their magic.
A game was a complete package which included the instructions and the box artwork, and if I wasn't getting them in the form that the creators intended I felt I was missing out.
I'm the same now. I never got into the whole Napster and torrent business - and I struggle to enjoy new music, in this streamable ecosystem, as much as I did when unwrapping a new CD, or vinyl album. The ZX Spectrum games that I loved were all ones that I owned, legitimately.
Many of the games which stood out for me from the era are the same ones which stood out for everyone; Jet Set Willy, Skool Daze, Underwurlde, Pyjamarama, Starglider, Valhalla, TLL...
I've never forgotten the excitement of seeing Knight Lore screenshots for the first time. Or the suppressed disappointment at how difficult it was.
But the one game that really got me wasn't even a game - it was a magazine.
16/48 was a mag on cassette. I remember it cost around a fiver, which was almost a month's wages back then, but you got your money's worth; demos of games, reviews, features, and an instalment of a multi-part graphic adventure. There was something more than a little teletext-y about it, and the first of its adventure games, The Long Way Home, hit me so hard it left a mark.
Somehow, that adventure - more than anything by Ultimate Play The Game, or Ocean, or Imagine - was a turning point in my love of games. Though basic, its time travelling story provided the escape I needed. It would be a pointless flourish of melodrama to pretend it saved my life, but it certainly made my life, as it was then, more tolerable.
The Long Way Home showed me that games can be as powerful as meditation, or medication, or a nice back rub. It's why games aren't just something I enjoy: I owe them. I care about them. And I get frustrated when I see their potential being squandered.
Games have a potential for alchemy that can be profound in the right hands. I resent the corporate, committee-led, nature of the blockbuster games we get now. They lack personality, identity, and idiosyncrasy.
Just as a person is more interesting and unique the more they've lived, the more they've been through, the more they're a sum of their experiences - like a pair of comfortable, battered trainers - so games fail to capture me the more they've had their edges rounded off. I want games that are a reflection of those who made them. I want that passion and identity to bleed through.
Any game that has a truth to it can take me out of the world, transport me somewhere else, somewhere full of possibilities. The Long Way Home didn't just take me out of the world, but out of time. Into the future, and the past. Back then, I wanted to be anywhere but the present.
At some point, my dad upgraded me to a Spectrum+ - the one with a proper keyboard. Sort of. Ish.
I think my original Spectrum had died - or the 48k upgrade pack had come loose. Either way, it was an opportunity for him to try and bond with me, as he'd exhausted every idea he had to interest me in football or the army.
I'd tried to show an interest, of course. I'd collected the Panini stickers, I owned a Watford FC shirt and scarf, but the few times we did go and see a match together, I invariably messed around out of sheer boredom. On one occasion, I flung my friend Warren Cox's baseball cap onto the pitch. He never spoke to me again (Warren Cox - not my dad). The 1984 FA Cup Final between Watford and Everton was a painful ordeal, but at least they had remote control helicopters during the half-time show.
I showed slightly more interest in soldiers. I'd badgered one of dad's colleagues in the Territorial Army to give me a job, and he'd offered to pay me if I helped out at the TA Centre one weekend. Unfortunately, while messing around in the back of a lorry I had the misfortune to poo my pants - having been too shy to ask for directions to the toilet. I hid the soiled underwear in the back of a truck, and asked to go home. I never heard if anybody found them.
After that, computers were the only real common ground we had left.
That said, on one occasion, my dad went with me to return a copy of a game I hadn't liked; Jack and the Beanstalk. I'd told him it didn't work - having done my best to corrupt the tape using a magnet - but when the shop loaded it up, it worked fine. They refused to give us a refund, which resulted in my dad storming out of the shop after directing an unfortunate racial slur towards the manager.
We get on fine these days. He's 81, and a fantastic granddad (especially if you play football, or joined the army), and considerably less racist. He still struggles with displays of affection, though.
"Why don't you ever tell Paul you love him?" my mum once asked him.
"I don't need to", replied my dad. "He knows I like him".
Much as I love the Spectrum, as important to me as it is, looking back it's remarkable how few of its games I ever completed. I've played so many of those games since, and it's pretty clear why I never finished them: they're mostly impossible.
Such were the limitations of the technology at the time that they demanded a level of patience and forgiveness to overlook their flaws and overreaching ambition. I was never blessed with such gifts, and so I'd typically play for as long as I could - those same few opening moments, over and over - before moving onto the next game.
Zoids, Shadowfire, and The Hobbit were three I particularly recall failing at. I barely knew what I was supposed to be doing in Zoids and Shadowfire, and the latter stranded me in a gloomy empty land the second I left Bilbo's hole.
Mostly, I ended up improvising.
Seiddab Attack - with its first-person take on Space Invaders - ended up as just one part of an elaborate game of make-believe. The loading screen of Bugaboo the Flea, which featured a flight through space, became the view out of my spaceship windscreen. I suppose, in its own way, it was an early example of emergent gameplay. For me, it was just trying to get some value out of something I'd spent pocket money on.
At some point, the Spectrum began to gather dust. The last game I remember playing on it was a conversion of the Star Wars arcade game - as good a demonstration as any of how far the system had come in just a few years. But the industry had moved on, and so had I. I took a trip to Harrods with a friend on my 15th birthday, and played on an NES. I knew it was the future.
By the time I left school, and got a job, my family had started to piece itself back together. It had been a rough few years, but my Spectrum had been more than just a home computer, more than just games. It's not overstating it to say it had been a life raft, keeping me afloat through the daily trials of school, and storms of grief and upheaval at home.
It did its job. I could see dry land again.
And waving to me from the shore were the Atari ST and Sega Master System...