My first videogame console had two-color graphics. It was a Fairchild Channel F - one of the very earliest consoles. It was a large, black plastic device with handsome wood paneling that peeled off far too easily. The cartridges barely fit into the slot, and frequently had to be "jimmied" to get them to work. The controllers stopped working about a month after we opened the box. It was, in other words, a piece of crap. And yet I loved it.
This was about 30 years ago, so I don't honestly remember how many hours I wasted playing that damn thing, but the number is vast. We had about four or five games for it, three of which we played twice then forgot. And yet still, everyday, all day, I was in front of that machine. Whatever free time I had, when I wasn't chasing frogs outside or doing some other young boy thing, I spent in front of the Fairchild.
I've owned many consoles since (almost all of them, in fact), but this one is still my favorite. Not because it was awesome (it wasn't) or because the games were genuinely better than those produced since (they weren't) but because that device owns a specific place in the hierarchy of my fondest childhood memories. Had my first videogame console been a Nintendo 64, or a Sony Playstation, I would feel the same way about it. Had my first childhood love been something else entirely - a book perhaps, or a Tickle-Me Elmo doll, I would love it just the same.
There's a current trend in the videogame space towards professing the superiority of past offerings over those of today. I understand this. Some things from gaming's past were actually better than what we have today. Some games were simply revolutionary, and will remain so, no matter how much time has passed.
Still, the vast majority of games today are simply better. For an industry in which both the technology and the techniques evolve so rapidly, this is just par for the course. There's no better cure for nostalgia than to fire up a beloved game alongside a current favorite. Nine times out of 10, this will be an eye-opening, and life-altering event. Firing up that older, beloved game, you will learn that the passage of time has not been kind, that compared to today's standards, it's not really all that great. That 10th time, though ... well, there's the rub. Sometimes the games you loved before really are better than the games being made today.
Some older games - no matter how many more pixels, colors or moves the current generation may have over them - are simply better. Maybe it's just the nostalgia talking, as with my Fairchild Channel F, or maybe something was lost along the way to the current state of gaming. Maybe sometimes looking back - to what worked in the past - is the best way to move forward.
This week's issue of The Escapist, "Uphill Both Ways," does just that. My old friend Allen Varney chimes in with a tribute to the father of tabletop role-playing, Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons; John Constantine explains why much of the mystery of gaming has been lost due to today's "always on" gaming media; Brendan Main explores the idea that gaming's past is only rosy in hindsight and Ryan Lambie suggests that the best days of gaming just might, in fact, be over. Enjoy!