As I have said before, I loved my Atari 2600 growing up. I didn’t have a huge game collection, nor even all the games I wanted, but I had enough that it made a life-long lasting impression on me.
So yes, I have a soft spot for the Atari. I currently own four 2600’s, although one of them is a Mac computer now. (I will write about that eventually.) The one that has the most meaning for me was given to me by my Uncle Robert ten years ago. I was at his house, fixing a computer problem he was having, when I started to talk about how much I still liked video games, and that I was now looking back and trying to buy (on the cheap!) old video games that I had as a kid. Hearing this, Uncle Robert mentioned that he had an old Atari in the basement I was welcome to have. I accepted, and when he brought it out, it was an original 2600, and in the box. The manuals were in there, as well as a bunch of games.
Uncle Robert passed away almost two years ago now, so this Atari 2600 has even more meaning to me.
Talking about it, he told me he picked it up the weekend after Christmas when I, as a kid, brought mine to my grandparents house on Christmas day. (Again, that story is here.) So this Atari from my Uncle Robert was built right around the same time mine was, and was purchased from the same store that my parents picked mine up at.
My Atari died, I think, many years ago. I don’t actually remembering getting rid of it. I had it, and then I didn’t. That’s what happens when you grow up; you get rid of the things that meant so much to you as a younger child in an attempt to distance yourself from your younger self, to move beyond being just a kid to a teenager, then from teenager to adult. I don’t know the year I stopped caring about the Atari, but I do remember laughing at it as a teen. I was, by then, into Nintendo and Sega, and the Atari 2600 was a quant children’s toy I had outgrown. Had I the wisdom then as I do now, I would have boxed up many of the important things from my childhood and saved them for later in life.
So my “on display” Atari has special meaning to me, as does the console in general. That’s why, when out with my wife, I got excited when I saw an Atari box at a garage sale.
I don’t like going to garage sales. I feel strange walking up to some strangers house and picking through their stuff. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s what they want you to do. That’s why they are having a garage sale after all! But still, I don’t usually enjoy it. My wife, Julie, loves it. So do my younger kids. So on this nice, warm June day this past summer (2014, for those finding this years from now), I braked the car hard when I saw an Atari box sitting on the floor inside a garage, sitting by a table full of… stuff for sale.
I was out of the car in a flash. What I found was an Atari 2600, in the box, with controllers, power, converter, and tons of games. Not only that, but another Atari 2600 in a Sears Tele-Games box. For those who don’t remember, Sears started selling video games with the Atari Pong in 1975, but the product was not sold under the Atari name. Sears and Atari continued this relationship until 1983. This particular box, however, was the Rev A. “Heavy Sixer” model from 1977! The most sought after of the Atari 2600’s! In the box, however, was an all black “Darth Vader” 4-switch model from 1982, and not a big deal. No idea how a ‘Vader made its way into the Sears box, but there it was.
The woman I spoke with was eager to sell the old game systems. I asked how much for both systems, and she didn’t know. So she asked her husband. Julie, my wife, also found something she wanted for $15. We settled on $30 for everything, and so by my reckoning, I spent $20 on the two Atari’s and the games, and Julie spent $10 on what she wanted.
I was pumped! I promptly got home, opened the boxes, and laid them out on the floor to take a picture and share my find with a FaceBook group about older game collecting. The response was amazing from the group, and everyone agreed it was a great deal. One person, however, said he needed an Atari 2600 box for his collection, and asked how much I would sell him just the box. Jokingly, as I had stated how much I paid, I said $20. And he agreed! So I shipped the box, and the Sears one, off to the FaceBook collector, making my end cost effectually zero for the buy.
I don’t collect the boxes. If I find a game or system still in the box, great, but I don’t collect or display them. I could care less, honestly, about the packaging. For me, it’s all about the games, not the boxes.
Game collecting, when I first got into it ten years ago, was inexpensive. I picked up many vintage gaming systems for the cheap via ebay back in the day. Today is a different matter, as more people are into the hobby and prices have gone up. I don’t have every system I want (I’m looking at you, TurboGrafx-16 and 3DO), but I have a large collection that I didn’t spend much money on.
Vintage game hunting can be fun. There is even a YouTube series called The Game Chasers I enjoy dedicated to it, though they seem more interested in finding the super rare games, or being completist. Still, I enjoy the show, and while I wish they were into the Atari games, I enjoy their never-ending hunt for the rare NES game.
It’s not an expensive hobby, even with the recent price hike for vintage systems. It can be, if you buy retail or go after the rare games on ebay. But there are still many deals to be had, such as my Atari find here, and all you have to do is go out and look! And if you DO find something cool, let me know about it!
I think it started in 1979 for me. I’m sure I had seen the arcade games before that, at least Space Invaders, but for me, video games really started in 1979. That’s when I saw my first Atari.
We didn’t call it the Atari 2600 then. It was just Atari. Neither my friends or I had ever seen anything like it, and when one of my friends got it, and not even at Christmas time!, we all rushed over to play it. His name was John, and I remember it was Summer Vacation of 1979 when either his parents or some rich uncle gave his family the Atari.
He told us about it at the playground where we all went to Elementary school. There were tanks, and jet fighters, and you flew them around the TV screen and shot at each other. The way he described the game, we could all imagine how cool it must be! You could control a tank! And Jets! There were clouds that you could fly through, and fortresses to maneuver your tank around!
A few hours later, we were all spent from having gone to John’s house and played Combat. Looking back now, 36 years later, the blocky graphics could barely be called Tanks, Planes, or Clouds. But to eight year-old boys in 1978, who had never seen a home video game, it could not have been more real than a pair of VR goggles with stereo sound today. It was amazing!
It would be months before I would get my hands on my own Atari, which would be the big Christmas present from Santa that year. Every Christmas morning, growing up, was the same. I would wake up early, see the pile of presents, and beg my parents to WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP! so I could tear into the colorful packages. I would be bouncing all over the house trying to make them get up FASTER. The ten minutes my Mom would spend boiling water to make her coffee would take FOREVER. (As a parent now, I understand the NEED for the Coffee that early, and looking back, Christmas morning just would not have been very Merry for anyone in the house had she not got it!)
A few hours after the event, we would get into my dads 1970 Delta ’88 (which would become my first car ten years later) and head to my Grandparents house, on my Mom’s side, and meet the rest of the family to celebrate the holiday, open presents, and have one of the best meals of the year. (Deviled Eggs, Ham, REAL mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, stuffing, and much more!) Around 7PM, we would spend a half-hour saying our goodbyes and heading a couple miles back home. Usually, at least it seemed to me, the night was always glowing with fresh, but not heavy, snowfall. The sound the tires made on the snow, a continuous humming/crunching sound. The pile of presents both in the trunk and in the backseat with me, promising new ways for my mom to cook, a new knife my dad would display, and new toys to join the other new toys waiting at home from that morning. Usually by 9PM I would be fast asleep, dreaming of the weeks left of Christmas Break from school, and the hours to play with the new toys.
1979 was different.
First, I KNEW the size of the Atari box. The rectangle box had been calling to me every time we went to the few stores that sold it. (Sears, Kmart, and Meijer’s) I knew the shape, the weight, the SMELL of that box! And sure enough, sitting front and center under the Christmas tree that year, was THAT BOX! Covered in neatly folded Christmas wrappings with a smiling Santa (Yes, I remember the wrapping) true, but I knew what it was. I also spied what HAD to be a video game that went with it, also a rectangular box albeit much smaller.
My hands were itching to rip the packaging open, and delve into the world of Combat. Plus whatever the other game was. (Turned out to be Maze Craze: A Game of Cops and Robbers. I remember liking it a lot) When the time finally came, I was rewarded with HOURS of fun. Except… we had to leave to go to my Grandparents house! OH NO!!!
We brought the Atari with us, and I (at eight years old) connected it to the TV there, where all my relatives enjoyed the system all day long.
The Atari was one of my favorite “toys” as a kid, and while I really liked it, it was not until Christmas of 1982 that it REALLY exploded for me when Atari released Pac-Man. Looking back, yes, it was a terrible port of a great game. It blinked so badly it almost cause people to have seizures, which was not funny to me, a kid who had a mom with Epilepsy. But it was Pac-Man, and I could play it AT HOME!
And it was amazing.