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Happy Birthday, Atari 2600!

October 1, 2007 — By Dr. Pete

Today is the 30th birthday of my first true love, the Atari 2600 game console. Growing up in a town of 136 people, we were keenly aware of the hierarchy of possessions. I had the most Legos, but my friend Mike had more Hot Wheels. The battle for Star Wars figure supremacy would rage for years. On the video game front, I had a Coleco Telstar that played not just Pong, but three kinds of Pong. Unfortunately, my time as king of that mountain would be short-lived.

My best friend Jack had a dad who loved big toys. Long before anyone argued about Nintendo vs. Sony or PC vs. Mac, Jack's dad (also Jack) was a gadget freak. Big Jack owned a VCR when TV had 3 channels and video rentals were barely a pipe dream. It was about the size of a lawnmower, and made roughly the same noise when you ejected a tape. Big Jack also owned the first big-screen TV I had ever seen. It was a front projector, and the beams aligned so badly that every show looked like a 3D movie with the glasses off. The optimal viewing distance was through the back window, about 50 feet behind Jack's house. The guys in the grain elevator at the bottom of the hill said the picture was amazing.

In the late 70s, though, Big Jack bought Little Jack a gift that would change the neighborhood balance of power forever. It was a mysterious black box, wrapped in wood paneling that was usually reserved only for deluxe edition station wagons. It had mysterious toggle switches, like "Game Select" (to this day, I'm still not entirely sure what Game Select did), a cartridge slot that promised a potentially infinite supply of games, and joysticks attached to cables, providing the never before imagined freedom to sit more than 2 feet away from the TV.

In the years to come, I would become hopelessly addicted to Space Invaders and Asteroids. Never would I have imagined the incomparable joys of slowly moving horizontally or shooting jagged circles with a tiny, rotating triangle. Happy birthday, Atari 2600! My PS2 and Wii may take up the space on my TV's input jacks, but you still have a special place in my heart.