Profile Atarian: Ethan C. Nobles
My experience with Atari started around 1979 when the fellow up the street got one. I was 10-years-old at the time, and I stopped by my friend's house after Christmas. He was all excited about a present he got -- the Sears version of the Atari 2600. I'd never had much experience with either the 2600 or the Sears Tele-Games system.
Prior to the time my friend got the Tele-Games unit, most of my video game experience centered around old Mattel handhelds and a Radio Shack Electronic TV Scoreboard (a rip-off "Pong" system, of course) that I owned. Until I ran across the Tele-Games system, I figured one had to find one of the big, clunky arcade machines to play some "complex" games (hey, it was the late 1970's -- anything with color graphics was high-tech and sophisticated back then).
So, I was stunned when my friend popped in a copy of Target Fun (Sears' version of Air-Sea Battle, of course) and I was treated to a variety of game variations, a comfortable joystick and flashy, color graphics. I was hooked right then and got my own Atari system a year later.
The Atari, as far as I was concerned, was the most impressive piece of gaming machinery I'd ever seen. After all, I could get versions of arcade hits such as Space Invaders, Asteroids and Missile Command and play them at home. I could challenge a friend with titles such as "Combat" or take on a whole group of friends with Warlords.
Better yet, Atari reigned supreme in my circle of friends. Sure, you'd get the occasional "rich kid" in town who wound up with a Mattel Intellivision or the poor sap stuck with a Magnavox Odyssey 2, but just about every kid I knew either owned a 2600 or hung out with people who did. Indeed, I thought Atari could do no wrong until that awful Pac-Man came out, along with some completely cringe-inducing titles such as E.T. the Extraterrestrial.
And then systems like the Atari 5200 and ColecoVision showed up, but I stuck it out with the 2600. Of course, the video gaming industry just crashed and went to hell in 1984, but I figure I became a "true" Atarian around then. Why? Atari 2600 titles were cheap, and I bought as many as I could. Also, my relatives knew what an Atari nut I was, and they snagged up a ton of those cheap games for me, too (don't laugh -- some great titles such as Cosmic Creeps, Yar's Revenge and Demon Attack were received as gifts from relatives who thought they were saving some cash on a present for me.)
So, I stuck with the Atari 2600 even when it was outclassed by systems such as the Nintendo Entertainment System and even the Sega Genesis. I headed off to college in 1987, and spent four years haunting pawn shops for cheap 2600 titles with friends of mine and did the same thing when I went to law school in 1991. Indeed, I can still be spotted down at the local Salvation Army shop combing through titles in hopes of finding a rare gem (how many blasted copies of Pac-Man, Combat and E.T. were made, anyway?)
Now, I've got a collection of around 120 games for the 2600. I don't claim it's the largest, but I've got my favorite games for the 2600, and that's all that matters to me, anyway. I'm not a collector -- I'm a gamer. I throw boxes in the back of a closet and store instruction manuals in big, Tupperware storage boxes along with my cartridges.
In 1998, I purchased an Atari 7800 and adore that system because of the great arcade ports available for it, it's ability to emulate a 2600 and that fantastic BallBlazer game. I picked up a Lynx in December 2001 and I'm slowly building a collection for it, too.
Over the years, I've collected a number of systems. Three of them I don't have anymore -- the ColecoVision blew up a few months ago and I sold a Bally Astrocade and Atari Jaguar last year because they were under my bed collecting dust (and, I found folks willing to pay a good sum for each of those units and the games that went with them). Right now, I have a Sega Dreamcast, a Sony Playstation, an NES and a Sega Genesis with a CD unit hooked up to the television in my living room (indeed, there's a lot of RCA plug switching going on -- thank goodness I've got a set of ports on the front of my television set). In my bedroom, I've got a 7800 and an Odyssey 2 (complete with The Voice unit) hooked up to the television set. And, of course, the Lynx and Sega Game Gear are always close at hand.
As for the Atari 2600, it's packed away for safe keeping and I use the 7800 to run 2600 cartridges. Still, my favorite system of all time is the 2600 and my favorite controller is that familiar old joystick that was packed with it. My five-year-old son, I'm proud to report, knows as much about the 2600 as any kid his age and has taken to those old games with the same amount of enthusiasm as his old man. What can I say? This is what happens when kids who grew up playing video games have children, I suppose. While I know that Atari died due to horrible management and an almost pathetic lack of understanding of the very market it largely created, that company will always represent the video game industry at it's height to me.