In the beginning was Pong.
No, not the beginning of the World; the beginning of the Electronic Game Age. You know, there was the Ice Age, the Stone Age, the Iron Age, and today’s contribution to the advancement of civilization, the Electronic Game Age.
Pong was the first widely successful electronic game. Mary and I still have one at the bottom of a closet.
Introduced in 1972, it was an electronic adaptation of Ping Pong, with an electronic “ball” that was slapped back and forth across a TV screen by two players who using electronic “paddles.”
There was one on display at Bartow’s first Eckerd drug store in the original Bartow Mall Shopping Center. It ran constantly, burning an image of the moving ball into the phosphors on the screen of a small portable black-and-white TV set.
The game’s difficulty, if I recall correctly, could be adjusted by changing the length of the paddles.
As the electronic game industry grew, Atari introduced Pac-man in 1980, a bright yellow cousin to the smiley face, who worked his way through a maze, gobbling up power pills and avoiding ghosts. Pac-man typically was found as a coin-operated device in entertainment venues.
The first one I saw was at the Florida National Guard’s Camp Blanding Officers Club. One of its biggest fans was Brig. Gen. Bobby Howell, commander of the 53rd Infantry Brigade, who probably pumped enough quarters into the game to add a new wing onto the club.
Today you can download Pac-man games to whatever electronic device you (or your grandchildren) cannot live without.
In that same era, Atari introduced another electronic cartridge game, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” based on a movie which introduced a new phrase into the American lexicon, “E.T. phone home.”
It has gained notoriety among electronic game devotees as “the worst game in the history of video gaming,” according to press reports. I never had the privilege of playing it, but reports say it was too easy for E.T. to fall into traps that were next to impossible to escape from.
The inventor of the game, Howard Scott Warshaw, has said he was given only five weeks to create the game in time to rush it to the Christmas market 32 years ago.
The E.T. game was blamed for a decline of Atari and a multi-year slump in the video game industry.
For three decades, people with nothing more important to worry about have believed rumors that Atari buried a dozen truckloads — about 728,000 game cartridges — to get the game off the market.
Last Saturday, workers using a backhoe dug though a layer of concrete that had been poured in an effort keep the cartridges permanently interred at a dump in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and found the mother lode of the worst video game ever made.
The city will give 250 copies to people making a documentary on the game, and plans to sell the others.
Now that E.T., The Game, has been found, is there hope for Sasquatch?
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. Ping pong is one of the few competitive sports at which he once excelled and Pong is the only electronic game he ever mastered.)