I was first introduced to the world of video games at or around the age of 3 years old. I have a memory of seeing something which resembled the 1983 ‘Stars Wars’ arcade game on an early PC of some kind and I would later come to play on the actual Star Wars arcade machine (which was the sit-in cockpit version) setting the foundation for my relationship with the technology. While there is a side to it that is magical and that allows you to escape into fantasy, a big part of it being appealing to me is that the computer is not there to judge you, or deny you the chance to have fun and play around. It invites you to sit down and interact with it, with what it has to offer. It’s establishing a friendship between human and computer.
Then technology progressed further forward to allow that computer play-pal to come in from the outside, directly into the home. The earliest games I played were on the Atari 2600 games console and the ZX Spectrum +2 computer. With the Atari, you had the original arcade video game ‘Pong’ to play, which had become so popular. It may not appear to be much of anything looking at it, yet there is something to compare it to. Many children have or had the opportunity to play ‘catch’ with a parent or guardian – throwing a simple ball back and forth between one another – and I feel Pong is the digital equivalent of that. While the differences are clear, it’s the same concept to a small child. There is someone there (although artificial) willing to pass this ball back and forth. A substitute for a real person when there is no one available.
From there the friendship is secured, and providing that there is everything in the home available to make the computer or games console work correctly, you have a reliable, unchanging and versatile companion to play games with – keeping you occupied and taking your mind off of feeling bored and/or lonely. Eventually the games would slowly start to become more complex and introduce new concepts and themes to the child. One particular series of games that I fondly remember on the Spectrum was called ‘Dizzy’. Here you take control of what can only be described as a “walking egg”, which you have to keep out of harm’s way while exploring a fantasy world, figuring out how to use items that are discovered in order to advance on your journey.
With this game you’re starting to learn more about problem solving, developing your ability to work out the basics of using one thing with another, as well as more abstract ideas. You can identify yourself as being in the characters shoes. If you’re deeply investing a lot of emotion in to it, you can really be quite upset or be despairing when the egg “loses a life” and you “die”. It tells a lot about the person’s state of mind and the level of emotional well-being when you’re making the choice to protect the character at all costs – showing concern and care – or becoming angry and frustrated at the character – leading you down the path of punishing the one you control – by having it die over and over again. You’re taking into consideration morality at an early age, in a very simple way.
There is also an indication of how the individual handles success and failure. Do you give up after the first try, or persevere no matter what? Is there a desire to throw the game out of the window by the end of it or a sense of achievement, fulfilment and accomplishment? I’ll continue with these thoughts in the next part.