The BBC sends a games enthusiast to schools to see what they think of the classic computer system.
30 years ago, in the month of August, 1982, the Commodore 64 8-bit computer was first released to the public. Over the course of its lifetime, it sold between 12.5 to 17 million units, making it the best-selling PC of all time and a highly recognizable gaming system. Despite the Commodore’s popularity, its ludicrously long loading times and simplistic graphics eventually forced the industry to retire the tape-based device in favor of more advanced cartridge-based systems. Many gamers still look back fondly at the Commodore 64, including enthusiast Matt Allen, who took his well-preserved system to elementary and secondary schools to see what kids today think about it.
“I want to convince the kids of today that the machine I grew up with, the Commodore 64, is as great as it ever was 30 years on,” Allen told the BBC. “This is the machine I played in my teenage years. Along with the Sinclair Spectrum, it was the computer to have in the 1980s.”
Allen had some trouble convincing elementary school students how impressive the Commodore 64 was in its day. “By the time that we’d managed to get the game to load, I’d lost half my audience,” he explains, as the camera turns to children who are more interested in commenting on the loading screen or music than playing the actual game. Allen did have more luck keeping the attention of secondary school students, but received mixed results on the games themselves.
“It’s not really amazing from our point of view,” one student admitted. She then immediately backtracked to say “Well, it’s good, it’s good, but … for then it must have been pretty incredible.”
“It’s different than modern consoles ’cause there’s only one button and a joystick on this one,” says another, “while some modern consoles have loads of buttons which you have to try and remember what they do.”
The only time I personally saw a tape-loading game system was last year when a friend of mine brought his out of storage. While I’m fascinated by the Commodore 64 as a piece of gaming history, I don’t think anyone realistically wants to go back to a time when you waited ten minutes or more to load graphics even simpler than the original Mario Bros. Despite that, I am very glad that people like Allen keep showing off their classic gaming devices, and hope that they will continue to do so for the gamers of tomorrow, even if responses are somewhat mixed.
“I didn’t think it was that different from normal games,” one student suggested. “I mean, the graphics were … a lot worse.”