Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

June 4, 2014

The gaming crash of 1983 powered a home computer generation

—. — When the great video game crash of 1983 occurred, a once thriving industry dominated by the likes of “Pac-Man” and “Space Invaders” was seemingly on the verge of extinction. Many blamed the horrendous Atari 2600 video game “E.T.” on the crash. Based upon the 1982 box-office smash by Steven Spielberg, the game was quite simply a broken mess. I remember owning it and can attest to the fact that it was terrible and nearly unplayable.

For a brief period of time after the crash, it was gaming heaven for those who were looking for video games at dirt cheap prices. Soon, just about every Atari, Intellivision and Collecovision game at the time could be found at dirt cheap prices in the clearance aisle. Mom at the time was buying games for me as cheap as $2 and $3 bucks a cartridge.

But once all of the cartridges were gone (or buried in a New Mexico landfill as we recently learned) — the fire sale was over. The once promising gaming industry, which had been unfortunately saturated with hundreds of low-quality and poorly designed games such as “E.T.,”  was in a state of ruins.

But it was the great 1983 crash of the gaming business that largely gave rise to the popularity of the home computer industry in the early-to-mid 80s. Suddenly, every child, teen and adult wanted a home computer of their own. We were no exception. Seemingly over night names such as the Commodore 64 became common — although I was still partial to the old Atari 400 home computer. But with help from Mom, I was soon able to upgrade to a more powerful Atari 600XL — a sleekly designed home computer capable of connecting directly to one’s television set. I wasted a lot of time and energy during those youthful years trying to learn how to program games — even having some limited success in creating some very crude looking but nevertheless playable — games of my own.

The computer programming books bought at the old Rose’s department store in Brushfork proved to be mandatory reading. At the time, little did I know or suspect how computers would change the world in the years ahead.

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Everything we do today in the newspaper industry is largely contingent upon computers. If the electricity goes off — or if a computer in the newsroom crashes — it can greatly complicate our ability to get a newspaper out each morning to our loyal subscribers. And without electricity, it also is very difficult to update our online product. Thankfully, we haven’t had any prolonged power outages to impact the Daily Telegraph in recent months.

As I sit here writing this column I am also giving careful consideration to what stories should be uploaded to the newspaper’s website.

Careful consideration also must be given to which stories are uploaded to our “featured homepage” spot — a location where stories and photos can be prominently displayed on our website.

I also must decide as part of my day-to-day duties what stories rise to the level of importance to be tagged as “breaking news.” While it is true that CNN considers just about everything to be “breaking news” nowadays, we still try to weigh the importance of an individual story before tagging it as “breaking news.”  In reality, keeping our online products updated throughout the day is somewhat of a full-time job.

But all of this stemming from the old Atari 400 computer I had as a young teen? Not really. But it has been a somewhat natural evolution of the industry.

However, I still often wonder what would have happened if the big video game crash of 1983 had never occurred. Would interest in home computers had been somewhat tempered in favor of home gaming consoles?

The answer — as we found out back in 1987 — was quite simple. That was when a little game called “Super Mario Brothers” re-ignited interest in what was once considered a dead gaming industry. Suddenly a new generation of youngsters were rushing out to purchase the new family-friendly Nintendo Entertainment System. We then learned that home computers and gaming consoles could find a place side-by-side in our individual homes. And Atari’s loss was Nintendo’s gain.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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