Thinking back on some of my fondest gaming memories, I’m amazed by the number of major games that were released each year, that would later become long-lasting franchises. But of course my memories only go back so far. Past a certain point, they’re more like puzzle pieces, or memories of memories – I know that I experienced them, but I don’t remember the experiences themselves.
That is what this post is mainly about – those nearly-lost fragments of memories that I managed to dig up and piece together.
It goes without saying that Pac-Man was a huge phenomenon, though it was technically before my time – the game hit U.S. arcades in 1980, when I would have been 1 year old.
Instead of the games, I was probably more familiar with Pac-Man from the cartoon series that ran from 1982 to 1983 –
…or the breakfast cereal that was sold up until 1988.
The 1983-1984 TV season brought more video game cartoons to Saturday Mornings, as part of the hour-long Saturday Supercade block. Mostly I remember watching Donkey Kong and Q-Bert once or twice. Also the weird-ass Rubik The Amazing Cube show. Either the shows didn’t make much of an impression, or there was something arguably better on one of the other channels.
One challenge with Saturday mornings back in the 80s, was that while there were only 3 TV channels to pick from, each of them aired four hours of cartoons on Saturdays, starting at 7 a.m. If you wanted to know what was airing when, you either needed to check the listings in the newspaper, subscribe to TV Guide, or flip through the channels during a commercial break. Recording shows to watch them later wouldn’t be an option until the price of VHS recorders came down, in the mid to late 80s. And even then, the VCR couldn’t record on one channel while you watched another.
The first game console my family owned was the Atari 2600. Unfortunately I can only remember three distinct things about it – that we had it, that one our games (Galaxian, maybe?) came with an Atari Force mini-comic, and that the system eventually died on us.
After our Atari died, I took it apart, because that was a thing I liked to do. Maybe I thought I could fix it? Or it could just be that I wanted to see what it looked like on the inside. I ruined several of my toys that exact same way – I’d take them apart, and then couldn’t quite put them back together again.
Another gaming memory I can’t quite place, is the tabletop Donkey Kong game by Coleco. Originally released in 1981, perhaps it was something one of my older brothers had gotten that year for either Christmas or their birthday. To me, it was just always there.
One of the oldest games that I remember the most clearly and fondly – and actually played – is Mappy.
I have a bunch of memories attached to Mappy, that have little to do with the game itself. Most of those memories are from the Alpine Valley ski resort in White Lake, Michigan. Apart from arcades, what could be more synonymous with the 80s than skiing?
The year I learned how to ski… it’s somewhere between 1984 and 1988. I might not remember the year, but I do remember the experience. I wanted to follow my brothers onto the bigger slopes, but had lessons on the bunny hills. For roughly an hour each night – I want to say between 6 and 7 – the lifts and slopes would all be shut down so the resort could run their snow machines and grate the hills. This gave everyone an hour to go inside, warm up, and get some food. Returning to the slopes afterword was rarely a pleasant experience, because the fresh, machine-made snow was always too wet, and had frozen into a grated crust by the time everyone got back onto the slopes. Your chances of wiping out – especially if you were inexperienced – shot up 100%
The warmth when you stepped into the lodge after a couple of hours of skiing was such a great feeling. Sitting by the fire might’ve been even better, but to do that you needed to time it so you’d get inside 10 minutes or more before everyone else.
The next best way to warm up was to grab a cup of hot chocolate, although this was also a curse – the cups didn’t have lids, and were filled to the top. Considering the ski boots were rigid and required you to learn a new way of walking, burning your fingers was unavoidable. You also couldn’t drink the top portion of your coco right away, because it was scalding hot and burn your lips and every inch of the inside of your mouth.
The cafeterias – one in the upper level, and one below – always had their share of familiar faces, as several of the teachers from my school – as well as classmates’ moms – worked there part-time.
What does any of this have to do with Mappy? Well, one of my favorite things to do in the lodge after getting some refreshment, was to kill time in the arcade. Plenty of kids crowded in there to play the latest & greatest games, but Mappy was one of the “old reliables” – it might not have been the latest or the greatest game, but it was always available. Year after year, games would be swapped in and out, new ones replacing the old, but Mappy managed to stick around. The background music is stuck in my head to this day.
Sadly, like most arcades of the time, Alpine Valley’s arcade is just a memory now. I can’t say when it closed, only that it was a long time ago. Still, every winter when I’m in Michigan, I’m tempted to go back to Alpine. If I ventured through the lower cafeteria, what would I find in the arcade’s place? Probably more seating, at the very least. The only reason I haven’t found out yet is that it’s been so long since I’ve skied, I’d probably wipe out and break something. And I’m old enough now that that something is probably going to stay broken.