Tech #10: Video Games for the Home!


One thing you'll notice when looking at old video game advertisements is that it was marketed as a social activity, much like a board game.  Early video game ads weren't much different than ads for Monopoly or Twister - it was something for the whole family to take part in (or at least husband and wife).  Somehow, the video game experience has morphed into a solo activity, or with anonymous players online, and it's all about the graphics and virtual experience.  Although, Guitar Hero and many Wii games hearken back to the home video game's early days.


Back in the day, almost no kid had a TV in their room (they were freakin' expensive) and a TV and a video game system in their room was basically unheard of.  It's probably not too off the mark to say that MOST kids in America have a TV and video game system in their room; whereas, in the 1970s and even 1980s, it was always in the family room.

Of course, I mustn't paint too rosy a picture of the early video game experience - it was a far, far cry from a Norman Rockwell painting. My brother and I fought like hell over the video games (literal physical brawls - like cage fights in the living room) and we could get pretty addicted.  I remember spending entire days trying to "turn over" Defender and Asteroids. 

Indeed, it was nothing like these happy families bonding over their new Atari... but at least it was doing something together.

And you can't blame dad for looking so excited in these pictures - he's not so much happy about family togetherness as he is glad to (1) have something to shut these kids up and (2) not have to shell out all that cash going to the arcade.  A quarter in 1983 is equivalent to about 53 cents today - and you may remember, those games often didn't last long.  A lot of money went into those machines.

You might have learned from this blog, I have the type of personality that can't do anything in moderation.  When I start a blog it's going to be at least an hour every night unless there's a fire or someone dies. In that same way, when my parents bought me Space Invaders and Missile Command, I couldn't just play in moderation.... I had to conquer it.  I had to make it my bitch.

Still, when I think back to video games during my childhood, they're not all pleasant, but they're with the family.  Now, I picture pasty fat assed kids alone in their room playing Halo. 

The old games were much less complex, but no less enjoyable.  Although, there were certain games like Frogger which were endlessly frustrating.  There was nothing worse than making it across the entire stretch of highway, only to miss a log at the very last jump.  God, it was painful.


What do you notice in common with all these ads? Basically, they all feature only white families. I double dare you to find me a home video game ad that features a black family....  okay, maybe in Ebony or Jet.

It's 4 Games in 1!

Even when it's just kids, no adults, it's strictly a Caucasian endeavor.  Interesting. 



  1. Note: I actually bogged this from my phone while at a meeting here in SLC, so please forgive any typos or other instances of bad writing.

  2. This is a VERY impressive "from the phone" blog gilligan!!

    I had the Atari in the first & last pictures, WOO HOO! I'll never forget the Christmas that I unwrapped that glorious thing!!!

    I was a latch key kid at a very early age so this was great "company" for me :)

  3. Atari 2600 ruled! Space Invaders, Pac Man, Missile Command,Centipede and even Tank were great games. Kids scoff at those today when they see the graphics, but I can apprectiate a game that only requires one stick and a button to play. The games today are too complicated. (Yes I know I sound old.) Great insights to the social aspect of video games. Today I see a lot of solo gaming while they wear headphones. It's like they are completely isolated from others while playing.

  4. No TI computer ads? We had one of those because my dad worked for the company, and we played it on an old black and white set in my brother's room because my dad didn't want it cutting into his precious tv time. We didn't really become addicted till the NES made it's first appearance though. I remember leaving it paused for hours when we had to go to grandma's, or church, etc. because we couldn't save our games back then.

  5. Ah, the history of video games.

    For a generation over 40 nothing seems to provoke a more sympathetic response, or heated argument.

    The love of the Atari (it was always Atari, not 2600 - No one talks about the 5200).

    The Fairchild and its "Channel F" that had a timer built in to stop kids from playing too long.

    Coleco and ColecoVision.

    Kids today (ouch) can't understand the love and loyalty we have for these simple graphics but challenging games. An extention of all the time we played in arcades and 7-11.

  6. A couple of my favorites were Yar's Revenge, Breakout (which used the dial shaped controller) and Megamania. I even had the Atari video game based on the E.T. movie. You had to get ET back to his spaceship. Countless hours of fun in the 80's. Thank God my teenagers are not into video games today. You are correct in stating that it is a solo activity these days. Good post.

  7. Ok I was one of those kids whose family never got atari.We got VECTREX. It came with it's own TV! AND you could MAGICALLY TRANSFORM the games from B&W to color by attaching one of the color plastic sheets to the screen. How ghetto was that. The commercial says 'chosen 2 to 1 over Atari and Intellivision." I believe it. ;)

  8. Maton: Correct! The TI ads had none other than Bill Cosby hawking their wares.

    Gilligan: I agree about the TVs, back in the 70s, even up through the late 80s, having one nice big set was a symbol of success. Two sets (one for the living room, one for the parents) was excessive, and three was almost unheard of (unless the kids were given the parents old B/W 9", no fun).

    I had a 2600 myself, as a hand me down, around 1982 or so. Back in those days though, the happening kids all had Colecovision, and a year prior to that, they had Intellivision. I wanted a Vectrex desperately, but couldn't afford it myself, and in lower middle class households, convincing your parents/relatives to spend $200 on a toy for the kids was like pulling teeth from a tyrannosaurus rex.

    I think though, that second to ET, for the worst video game burn, was SwordQuest for the 2600. Only one guy got a prize, and later it turned out that the puzzles were extremely difficult mathematical problems that you really could only get if you were a math major college student (and my being 12 at the time, meant I had not a snowball's chance in Hell). Not exactly geared towards Atari's majority market. And then by the time the first winner was given his prize, Atari folded and was taken over by Jack Tramiel, who killed the SwordQuest contest for good.

    I still miss my old silver Atari jacket though. Sigh.

  9. Neuromanson, trust me, you didn't miss anything. It was a complete piece of crap and heavy as all heck for a 12 year old to 'carry' from room to room (but we were NOT allowed to pick it up....my dad thought we would break it.) Atari was way better but my parents never got that because A. it was too expensive and B. they were afraid we would take up the TV. I don't remember Vectrex being $200. I think my dad purchased it on clearance when they were starting to go under. No way he would've paid $200 for anything like that. Rent was $250 a month back then! So that would mean and Atari was like almost $1000 in today's money? Yikes!

  10. I really enjoyed this post - it brought back some great memories. We especially liked the ColecoVision games like Pitfall and Freeway. I wasn't that good at any of the games but it was fun.

  11. Fantastic comments! I'm still away on business, but am enjoying comments via my phone. Great stuff.

  12. Nice post. My first games console was similar to the Sears Telegame pictured here, but without the base. The controller WAS the computer. It plugged straight into the telly, and the dial was used to first choose a game (i.e. Pong or a variation thereof) and secondly to play the game. Needless to say it was rubbish.

    Thankfully my mum replaced it with an Atari 2600 when I was about 7. Yar's Revenge! What was that about? I don't know but I liked it. That creepy, constant droning noise was strangely hypnotic. Other favourites were Moon Patrol and Pitfall. And how about that wooden panel? Mmm mmm.

    I don't really agree that games are more solo than they used to be. I think the option of multi-player is bigger now than ever, especially with online link-up. Besides which, adults don't usually want to play video games, do they? And when they do they're completely inept, which can be pretty frustrating for the kid.

    Generally speaking, I would say video games are for mates. Board games are for family. Get ma sizzle?

  13. anna banana: Yeah, the Vectrex retailed at $199, or $430 adjusted for inflation.

  14. "It was released in November 1982 at a retail price of $199 ($430 compensated for inflation[1]); as Milton Bradley took over international marketing the price dropped to $150 and then $100 shortly before the video game crash of 1983.[2] The Vectrex exited the market in early 1984."
    I am certain my dad couldn't have paid more than $50 for it; he was too cheap to speand money on expensive stuff like that. I know there was a discount chain right next door to his shop that got a ton of them after they stopped making them & they were selling them for a ridiculously low price. I think he got the whole console & about 5 games for $50. because he knew the guy. I never realized it retailed for $200.
    He brought it home all proud like it was the best thing since sliced bread and I was like what is this piece of crap? AND then HE PLAYED IT for like two days straight and wouldn't let any of us play it!

  15. I still rue the day I sold my Atari 2600 and 28 cartridges to the night watchman at my first job about 20 years ago. What was I thinking?!

  16. Oh yeah, I also have an Odyssey II game system, shagged at Goodwill for $10 with 10 games, and The Voice! Was hoping it could sell with collectors on eBay, but looks like barely anyone can even get rid of a mint in box Odyssey II for that price.

    Ohwell, it's always fun to make The Voice curse like a sailor.

  17. I'm an old bag born in the early fifties. So I was in my 30s when my husband and I got our Atari. I loved it! Frogger, Asteroids, Yar's Revenge, even my mother liked Space Invaders. We had a skiing game and we enjoyed hitting the little stick figures on the gates to hear them splat. I still wish I had my Atari. I think one of the dogs chewed one of the joysticks.