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Atari nostalgia

Posted by Christopher Shea  March 8, 2009 02:05 PM

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Adventure, for the Atari 2600

Geoff Edgers has an illuminating interview with the MIT assistant professor Nick Montford in today's Ideas, on the subject of Atari and the "golden age" of video games. Coincidentally, I stumbled on 2600online.com last week, a site that replicates amazingly well (minus that classic joystick) a few dozen of the most popular games for the Atari 2600, the ur-home-gaming system.

There's Space Invaders, of course, which I think came with the console and which mirrored the arcade version pretty well. Adventure was also very good, even though the medieval "adventurer" you controlled was, literally, a square, and the dragons that pursued you looked like ducks sketched by a modestly talented 3-year-old. Ah, and Missile Command! Perusing the ancient games is a reminder of what Montford says: the quality of gameplay doesn't necessarily correlate with computational horsepower.

Of course, Atari had its share of duds, too. I'd never seen E.T., but it does appear to be as epically lame as the professor says. And I remember just how disappointing Pac Man was, but for different reasons than Montford mentions. When you moved Pac-Man up or down, his mouth stayed horizontal, which was just ridiculous. Also the ghosts were blinky and cheap-looking; they must have overtaxed the system.

P.S. It's never a good sign when developments concurrent with your childhood are described as "deep history," as they are in the subhead of that Q & A.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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