So, this is Christmas 1982. You’re 11 years old, just on the cusp of an oh-so-grown-up 12. There are a bevy of presents waiting for you under the glittering tree that cold winter’s morn, but three in particular immediately strike your greedy eyes as you come down the stairs. From the shape alone, you know that the three rectangular boxes propped up in front of the tree are motherflippin’ ATARI games … but which games?
You fling your younger brothers aside in a manner somewhat at odds with the yuletide axiom “Peace on earth and goodwill towards men,” as your mother squawks something along the lines of “Jerry, those are for all of you now …”
Yeah, right they are, Mom. Those two blabbering ding-dongs aren’t laying a finger on these pristinely wrapped boxes. They can play with the stupid Hot Wheels or what-the-hell-ever. These boxes are mine.
The first box is ripped open in a blur of frenzied movement—boom: Raiders of the Lost Ark! This is a coup! Not only is Raiders your favorite movie of all time, but Indiana Jones is the greatest hero ever, and now you get to be him in this game. It’s an orgasm (not that you even know what that is at 11) disguised as an Atari cartridge!
The next box is rent open just as quickly—and, lo and behold, it’s your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in Atari cartridge form! Another cool game that will get tons of play time in the coming months.
The third and final box is now resting in your grubby hands. You have a pretty good idea what this game is, as the hype for it has been off the charts, and TV commercials for it have been on an almost constant loop for the past couple months. The wrapping comes off with ease and, yes, it is E.T. the video game! Everyone loved the movie—if you didn’t love that goddamn cute alien movie you were clearly a communist pinko spy who hated God, America, baseball, and apple pie—in that order. (I kid, I kid. But remember, this is 1982; it’s the height of the Cold War, so I’m not exaggerating that all that much.)
Since the movie is an all-time classic, the video game has to be of the same quality … right? Right?
The E.T. game is … different. It’s not just an arcade-y, pick-up-play affair. You actually have to read the manual to understand the play mechanics, and once you do, it can still be a bit disorienting because of the quick movement between the various playfields.
Regardless, in a couple days you’ve mastered it (Raiders would prove a tougher nut to crack), and when you’re back in school the following week, you’re providing your classmates with a walk-through (before that was even a thing) for the game.
You’ll always have fond memories of that Christmas, and that E.T. game, but as the years progress and internet navel gazing becomes the law of the land, you’ll see the game’s creator, one Howard Scott Warshaw, get dragged by every goofball with an opinion and a two-bit blog, calling it the worst game of all time, while also screeching that Warshaw and the game he created in just five weeks almost single-handedly destroyed the nascent video game industry in the early ’80s.