An open 'Happy Birthday' to my first love (I'm not late)
My hands plunge into a beaten-up cardboard box sitting atop a black flea market chest of drawers, pulling out one rarity after another…Tigervision's "King Kong," Spectravision's "Mangia," a prototype of Spy Hunter for paddle & keypad controllers, it's every rare game that ever existed and a whole lot of ones that have never been seen before. I am elated.
Then, of course, I wake up.
This was the dream that woke me yesterday morning. It's the same one I've been having on a regular basis for the last twenty years. I go to some second-hand shop, flea market, or swap meet, and happen upon a box of impossibly rare video game cartridges that some unfortunate slob is selling for pennies.
It isn't an unattainable fantasy, it's a subconscious recreation of that rush that turns hobbyists into obsessive collectors, exhaustive researchers, and amateur historians. It's the thrill of uncovering a beloved rarity in the wild. I had this dream two nights ago because I was under the impression that yesterday was going to be the Atari 2600's 35th birthday.
And though it was my first love, my first true gear obsession, I could not confirm the Atari 2600's actual launch date was October 14, 1977.
An unsourced date on Wikipedia was the trigger for my dream and likely the reason why Chris Morris and a number of other bloggers chose to write about the birthday event yesterday. But all the trustworthy sources I checked only said "October 1977."
Racing the Beam, Supercade, Ultimate History of Video Games, New York Times, Washington Post archives, and trade magazine archives, nothing had a specific date attached to the launch of the VCS. This is likely attributable to the fact that the launch of the VCS wasn't a fantastic ceremonious event itself. By many accounts, it was just another thing that was shipped out to electronics and department stores. Only 250,000 units were sold in the first year, due in part to production problems. It became a hero after initial availability, not before.
As I write this, I still do not have the source of this date. The first appearance of the VCS being available in a national publication was an ad in the Washington Post on Oct 21, 1977 for a place called "The Math Box," which I've embedded below.
If my point has been a little hazy up to now, I aplogize. Here it is in a nutshell: The Atari VCS and its anniversary are so important to me that I wasted literally the entire day of the anniversary searching for something to prove it actually was the anniversary. Classic Conneally. It's been that kind of obsession for my siblings and I our entire lives. It's one part history, one part love for obscurity, and one heaping part of perpetual juvenility.
Exhibit A: Audio cassette labeled "June 25, 1984," recorded in our family's living room:
"Gary, do you think that you stink at Yar's Revenge?"
(With mouth full of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups) "Pershonally, I haven't tried it yet."
"Oh, well I think you stink anyway."
The Atari VCS flung the United States into the reprogrammable home video game era, and was a fixture in my home long after the video game crash of 1983. As game cartridges dropped precipitously in price, we kept buying more. Then in 1989, after my peers had moved on to the Nintendo Entertainment System, and our household had long since switched to the Commodore 64 and BBSing, Atari VCS (aka 2600) came back around with its "The fun is back for $50!" ad campaign and the local toy stores filled up with new Atari 2600 games that weren't garnering much public interest. We continued to casually stockpile games and hardware, and continue to stockpile to this day.
On a number of occasions, I've written about classic games here on BetaNews. These are some of the easiest articles to write because the reward is the work itself. The obsession, as you can see, has not waned at all. So this is my birthday wish to the Atari: I hope to find a solid, confirmable date which I can attach to your birthday, so we can raise a glass.
Until then, I'm considering it open to interpretation, and I will keep sinking my hands into imaginary troves of lost software.