The Thing with the Buttons

A recent discussion got me thinking about why I don’t “fit in” with the gaming community despite spending an awful lot of time actually playing video games. I just don’t fit in with the popular kids.

I blame my parents.  Well, at least my parents choices.

I grew up in the 80’s (born in ’74 but up until age 4 I didn’t get much access to computers or games.)  My dad was a math teacher and technology geek.  He loved the concept of computers and new technology and often brought home cool stuff that my friends had never heard of.  (When I was in grade school he brought home a video phone.  Really.  Problem was NO ONE ELSE had a video phone so it was useless– oh, and it had a cord.)

We owned this version of pong and played it on a little black and white tv-- that's right-- we owned a video game console before we owned a color tv.

I only got to play Pong occasionally because it was a “grown up” thing that I had to be supervised to use. Really.

Not long after that we got this:

My dad was one of the math teachers who got to turn into a computer teacher overnight so he brought this home.

I very quickly learned a little bit of BASIC (enough to show off on the computer at school). I also got to play text adventures but again with the adult supervision. For a time we had no way to save and later there was all the trickiness of turning it off at the proper time, saving at the proper time, and whatnot.

Around the same time my dad bought us a TI99.

THIS was my first gaming console-- the first one I was allowed to use freely and as much as I wanted. I adored it.

Finally I had free access to a console.  It had game cartridges that you had to blow on occasionally (dust kept the connectors from connecting and since the end was open that happened often.)  You will note that it had a keyboard so of course I learned to play using WASD instead of a controller.  We still own this console, it still works, the games are still fun, and my kids still enjoy it though way less often than the Wii and DS.  The Atari system came out around the same time as we got the TI99 but I was still the first kid in our school (small school) to own a computer AND the first with a gaming system.

The Intellivision holds a special place in my heart. I still love this thing and we still play it occasionally.

I was devasted when my parents bought us an Intellivision for Christmas the same year all my friends got Ataris. I wanted an Atari.  Everyone else got an Atari.  Note the difference between the Intellivision controller and the Atari controller.

Atari-- the one all my friends had. Okay, maybe just my best friend but still.

What we had. And the reason? The Intellivision was cheaper. The games were cheaper. And you could get a voice synthesizer. We also had a voice synthesizer for the TI99. My dad was into synthesized voice-- it tickled his inner geek.

The Atari had a joystick with a button.  It was what people who played at the arcade were used to (smart move Atari) and would be the controller of choice for some time.  The Intellivision had rather a clever controller  : you had to put an overlay on for each game  but it made it super easy to know the controls for each game  but it never caught on.

Various game overlays for the Intellivision. I have a pile of about 40-- 2 for each game.

I actually really liked the 12 button with overlay system since it gave you a lot of different possible controls and the bottom thumb pad was also nice though you had to hold it up and down.  It was similar to the current d-pad on Wiimotes.  This made it an easy transition for my brother and I the year he got a Nintendo for Christmas (I got pc games instead– we had a TRS 80).

Oh the hours spent beating Zelda, all the Super Mario Bros. games, and Metroid. And oh the confusion when we beat Metroid and suddenly our character was replaced by a green haired chick. 😉

The NES was the last console we got until both of us moved out and moved on. We did however have a variety of joysticks for the computer– all variations on the original Atari joystick but with added z buttons.

We had several joysticks for the computer that looked along these lines, and then a few with fancier buttons and doodads.

So I spent most of my gaming time on controllers that looked NOTHING like this:

A Sony controller. Not only is this thing uncomfortable for me to use because I didn't learn to play on it, but for me both the Sony and the Xbox controllers are way too big for my small hands and are therefore uncomfortable to use.

However, you will note that the game controllers that I cut my teeth on look an awful lot like this:

Look! If you hold it sideways it is very similar to the original NES controller as well up and down feeling similar to the Intellivision controller. Also note the thumbstick issimilar to the joysticks I grew up with-- in fact we even had one very similar to that at one point.

So it makes perfect sense that I would continue to prefer Nintendo and PC games given that I didn’t even get my hands on a Sega or Playstation or regularly use any other kind of controller until I was in my 20’s.

Our kids on the other hand have had exposure to all sorts of gaming systems though they too prefer the Wiimote for its simplicity of use though they spend a large portion of their time playing PC games.

And me?  I will continue to enjoy my Nintendo games both on the Wii and DS along with spending a lot of time playing pc games.  I never was one of the cool kids anyway.

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