Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Memory Bank: Atari Video Computer System

For Christmas 1978, my parents gave my sister and me an Atari VCS (Video Computer System), today more commonly-known as the Atari 2600. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had entered the video game age. 

I still remember the initial unveiling of this early game system.  For some reason, we had Christmas upstairs in our den (my dad's office) at 7 Clinton Road that year instead of down in the basement family room as we usually did.  And after I opened several Mattel Battlestar Galactica toys and a stash of Mego Planet of the Apes toys that my parents found at Englishtown flea market, they pointed me to our beige sofa. 

They told me to look behind it, and there, tucked against the wall was a very large rectangular box.

My sister and I pulled out the over-sized box and I still remember our bafflement at the graphics.  What the heck was this thing

My parents quickly explained patiently that it was a game you could play “on the television.”  Then we all went downstairs together, still in our pajamas, and my Dad hooked it up. 

The games I remember having initially were COMBAT (which came with the system), SPACE INVADERS, and MISSILE COMMAND.  While my Mom went up to the kitchen to fix us homemade pancakes, my sister and dad and I played Space Invaders…and I was hooked.

Atari was still a big thing the next Christmas, in 1980, and I remember getting the ASTEROIDS game, which featured a craft that like a Buck Rogers star-fighter on the game cartridge art.   I also have very fond memories of school afternoons when my Dad would come home from work and meet me in the basement for a round or two of COMBAT.  He was good with the tanks (and pong...) but I was good with the planes.

If memory serves, I was among the first in my neighborhood to own a video game system, and so our basement family room saw a lot of Atari action for the first two years or thereabouts.  Before long, my friends bought competing video game systems like Intellivision and Colecovision, and the luster of the Atari wore off a bit.  Our family updated at some point to the Atari 5200, and then quickly to an Atari 400 computer.  Then we got an Atari 800.  So between the time that I was ten to the time I left for college, we had an Atari system of some type in the house.

When I did go away to school in fall of 1988, we probably still had sixty or so games (some from Activision) for the Atari 2600, but I rarely played it anymore.   Then, about seven years ago, in 2005, my parents found one for me at a yard sale here in Charlotte --- still in its box and un-played with -- for five dollars.  Boy was that a great discovery.

 The Atari Video Computer System box reads:

“Atari brings a powerful computer to your home television.  This system allows you to build a Game Library with additional Game Programs and controllers.

The Atari Video Computer System Includes:

Video Computer System Console

2 Sets of Controllers

COMBAT Game Program including 27 action-packed game variations.

TV/Game Switch Box

AC Power Supply.”

Today our culture has moved far past Atari in terms of home game systems, to be certain, but occasionally Joel still asks me to bring out the old “Atari,” and give some of those primitive games a whirl. 

He has asked me a bit less of late, in part because Roku offers some of the same games -- like PAC-MAN and Galaga -- and the controllers for that system are much easier for him to manipulate.  Also, he’s begun to get into Playstation 2 games including Madagascar and Ben 10. 

That said, Atari is still the only platform we own that allows Joel to play MISSILE COMMAND.  He loves that game because he loves to see the world get wiped out in a (strobing) nuclear explosion when he loses.  Crazy kid…

Below are some commercials from the 1970s for the Atari Video Computer System.  This is one great toy from the 1970s that lived up to the advertising: “More Games – More Fun.”


  1. Oh yeah! The Atari 2600 was my bump up from Pong. I was already addicted to the arcade in town. The Atari 2600 was an extension of that. Frogger FTW!

  2. Was that Chuck McCann and Bill Smitrovich in two of the ads?