I just finished watching “The Art of the Game” (embedded below), a documentary about the evolution of digital games as the dominant media format.
Me and computer games go back a long way. I got my first PC at the age of 7, a Commodore 64, with a briefcase of game cassettes. You would wait sometimes up to 20 minutes to load one game, which puts some things in perspective. It also came with a version of BASIC, which was my first exposure to programming.
3 years later I got my first IBM-Compatible computer, a venerable XT with a monochrome display. Again, my main use for it was gaming and occasionally fiddling with BASIC (mostly to run Snake, which was sample program included). My memory from that period includes games such as the original Civilization, X-Com: UFO defense and lesser known classics such as Another World and Alley Cat.
Playing games back then wasn’t as straightforward as it is today. If you were using an IBM compatible, you were most likely running DOS, and had to mess around with system configuration files (config.sys and autoexec.bat) to get enough memory to play those games and get your sound card working.
I had to become familiar with things like XMS and EMS, IRQ and DMA configuration, how to troubleshoot the computer when things went wrong (BIOS settings, diagnostics, disk recovery), how to replace and install parts, how to set jumper settings and a bunch of things that might seem trivial now (to techies), in the age of the Internet, but back then (around 91′-92′), we haven’t even gone online and there was barely anything there compared to today.
All those struggles were for the purpose of playing all of those games, which felt much more rewarding than any other kind of entertainment I’ve ever experienced, and not just as entertainment but intellectual stimulation as well. The depth of games like Civilization and X-Com, the storytelling of adventure games like King Quest and Monkey Island (I can still remember calling the tip hotline when getting stuck), was all very magical to me and made the pains of getting everything working seem trivial.
By the time I was getting into high-school, I had developed an innate intuition for all things computer related, that you just cannot learn by taking normal classes. Computer and programming class in high-school was a breeze thanks to that, which was the main reason I took it for extra credit. As a result, I also had basic proficiency in another programming language – C.
During college I picked up programming again, this time to pay tuition and the bills. It later became my main career path and an enabler for becoming an entrepreneur in the rapidly software focused world. All of it, thanks to computer games.