Carolyn VanEseltine is a web QA tester at Harmonix. When not searching for ways to break the website, she often sees people face-to-face as well as seeing them online. For this, she thanks her mother, who routinely required her to get some fresh air and stop hitting her brother.
At the end of Part 1, I promised you a malaria story if you came back for Part 2 of the series. Welcome back! I can tell by your bright, shining eyes that some of you apprenticed to Dr. Gregory House long ago. If you recognized this reference, we have something in common, and if you don’t, don’t worry about it. (After all, that one wasn’t a gaming reference.)
- “I had a bunch of computers that I tinkered around with as a toddler, like the BBC Micro and the ZX Spectrum, but the thing that triggered it all for me was Epyx's Winter Games and my near-death experience.
In the '80s my grandparents were living in Papua New Guinea. During the school holidays, I'd usually fly up to Port Moresby to hang out in tropical climates, ride on the backs of dolphins, and generally get spoiled pretty seriously by my grandmother.
One day, we decided that we should go bug catching. We bought a bug catcher, then went into a small area off the main apartment building that we were in. While we were hoping to catch a ladybug or two, we were instead swarmed by hundreds of mosquitoes. One bit me, which isn't that surprising, and we escaped the area pretty quickly.
What was surprising was later, when I started losing track of time, developed a fever so high that I was hallucinating, and generally was not healthy. A rush to the doctor determined that I had cerebral malaria.
For those not familiar with malaria: it's pretty bad. There's no vaccine, and severe cases like cerebral malaria in children usually end up with coma or death, and some fun brain damage on the way. Needless to say, this wasn't a pleasant potential path for either my grandparents, who were taking care of me, or my mother, who was on the other side of the Torres Strait.
After huge amounts of panicking and calling up universities and hospitals around the world, antimalarial drugs were flown in in the hope that they countered the strain that was local to Port Moresby. Essentially, it was taking multiple horse pills multiple times a day while going through a high fever, which wasn't fun.
My mum's solution was to try and bribe me to take the ‘do not die/get brain damage’ pills: ‘If you take all the pills and fly back soon, you'll get your very own computer!’. That and the huge amounts of Nutella covering the pills managed to pull me through to the point where I was well enough to fly back to Australia to recover.
Not long after, we walked into Grace Bros in North Ryde to pick out my first computer. My choices: either this weird all-in-one box called the Apple Macintosh with a black and white screen, or the Amiga 1000 with colors and this awesome bouncing red and white ball.
We bought the Amiga (complete with 256k RAM expansion!), set it up, and within minutes EA's Arcticfox and Epyx's Winter Games had started my gaming addiction. I spent hours jumping over huge chains of barrels or trying to figure out what else I was meant to do besides drive a tank, and I quickly grew out my Amiga collection from there.
There's also the story of my first console, and how I obsessively competed in a Super Mario Bros tournament when the NES was first released to try and win one, but that's another story for another time....”- Dan Teasdale, Senior Designer
In Part 1, I mentioned that many of us associate our first video games with family members and friends. In Part 2, I should mention that many of us associate our first video games with family members who tried to keep us away from our first video games, who confiscated our video games, or who yielded only reluctantly on the matter.
- “I have a checkered past with games. The first game I ever played was on a little brown Pong machine. It had classic Pong, Pong Hockey, Doubles Pong, and a solo Pong where you just hit the ‘ball’ up against a ‘wall’ over and over. My parents eventually took it away from me and my sister for fear we would never go outside again.
Next was a ColecoVision. I can't remember the game (my heart tells me it was Donkey Kong). Like the Pong machine, this was taken away by my parents for the same reason.
In my third and most successful attempt to have video games in my life, I circumvented my parents and asked my grandmother for a Game Boy. That Christmas morning, when my sister and I opened our respective grey bricks, our parents groaned a bit, but were able to justify it by saying that at least we could take it outside. The game, of course, was Tetris, and the third time was indeed a charm, as there was no turning back.” - Maclaine Diemer, Composer / Sound Designer
- “My first video game was a Pong machine that hooked up to the TV. There was no sound output, so the sound actually came out of the console. In fact, you had to turn the volume off on your TV when playing because, otherwise, it just blared static.
Then Atari 2600 arrived with its included Combat cartridge, and the rest is history.
I remember when the NES came out and salivating over it for months and months. My mom refused to buy it because it couldn't play my stockpile of Atari or ColecoVision cartridges. Then, the Atari 7800 came out which WAS backward-compatible with the 2600, and she bought it as a compromise. And, of course, we all know how successful that system was - though its version of Xevious was pretty cool.
Eventually, of course, my mother (or, more likely, it was my grandmother) finally caved and I got the NES. In my little hometown (let me give a shout out to Manville, RI!), there wasn't much to do within walking distance of my house, but there was a video rental place about two blocks from which I rented NES games. I think I spent every penny of my allowance there and rented literally every single game they had.” - Jeff Chausse, Director: Web
- “Definitely have to go with Asteroids here, for the Atari 2600 - one of the first of many games my Uncle bought me. Also, this was the catalyst for those ever-fateful words from my parents that we all know so well: ‘Video games won't get you anywhere.’ I love reminding them that video games pay the bills now.” - Chris Enright, Senior QA Tester
- “The first game I got hopelessly addicted to was Lode Runner on the Apple IIe in around 1985. Then in '89, my brother and I won Mario 3 in an Oreo sweepstakes, which finally convinced our mom to cave and buy us a NES.” - Josh Stoddard, Software Developer
- “I think the first game I ever played was Carmen Sandiego, but it was at school, so I'm not sure I realized it was a game.
I begged and begged for an NES after playing Mario Bros at a friend's house. I finally got one for Christmas ‘From Santa’. It was a bundle and came with a light gun, power pad, and cartridge that had Mario, Duck Hunt, and Olympic Track & Field. My dad, however, not one to spend money and not gripe about it, spent the next three weeks complaining about how expensive it was.
Goodbye, belief in Santa; hello, afternoons spent cheating Track & Field by ‘running’ my hands.
I've never had very quick thumbs, though, so as games got more complicated, I started to realize that I enjoyed watching other people play them a lot more than I liked playing them myself. So that's what I do now.” - Jyllian Thibodeau, Playtest Assistant
- “The first game I fell in love with was Gyromite. I remember unpacking our NES bundle on my grandparents’ bedroom floor. I can vividly recall trying to figure out what a robot was doing in the box next to a gun while my gramps was hooking up the NES. The sense of accomplishment in completing a level in that game resulted in my crippling addiction to puzzle-centric games.
In addition to playing the game, my older brother and I found ways to injure each other with the spinning blue and red tops. When my mother decided we need to play outside, my older brother and I would pretend to be the sleepwalking doctor. We devised a game similar to Red Light, Green Light, but we called it Red Spot, Blue Spot. One person walked around the backyard, arms extended, trying to pick up sticks, while the other yelled red spot, blue spot.” - Emily Waddy, QA Tester
- “I grew up in a no-consoles household, but we did have a computer. Aside from a lot of time with MS Paint, my first game was Zork 3. To this day I respect and fear the darkness and the Grues it may hide.
My cutting-edge friend had a Commodore 64 hooked up to an old television in DAZZLING 4-color CGA, and we played games like Jeopardy and Aliens. The real clincher for me, though, was a one-two punch. First, the shareware explosion from companies like Apogee which introduced me to gems like Commander Keen, Jill of the Jungle, and Wolfenstein 3D. Secondly, my parents finally caved and bought my brother and I each a Game Boy - the original, gas-powered version. My very first game was The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, and to this day it remains one of my favorite Zelda games.” - Dan Johnson, QA Tester
- “The first one I remember is Goonies for the Commodore 64, but I was about 5, so I don't think I really got into it. The first one I remember that really got me going was the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combination. And, of course, Mario 3 was the ultimate. I remember being late to school the day that came out because my Mom let us go buy it in the morning to make sure we got it. The guy at the game store was playing it, and I knew I was witnessing something amazing. I don't think I've ever seen it beaten to this day. My brother was very close one Christmas, and right as he was going for the last level, one of my aunts came in and shut the NES off and told us all that we were spending too much time inside and to go play in the snow. This is one of the most crushing moments of my life.” - Michael Georgeson, Artist
Guess what? We’re not done! I’ll see you again with part 3 of this article soon. Until then, why not tell us about someone who tried to get between you and your video games? Again, we’ll look forward to hearing from you in the comments or the forums.