My dad tells me my first game was Juggles' House on the Atari, but I was so young then that I don't remember.
What I recall is my childhood playtime spent in our finished basement, carpeted and converted to a great big computer room, where a closet full of colorful cellophane-wrapped boxes called my name. I'd stand on tiptoe and pull down the ones with the most intriguing names, take out the floppy disk inside and play a new adventure. The closet was always full, and I don't think Dad even knew everything we had in there, but there was always something new to play. I was a lucky kid; my dad was a technology writer.
At 25, I'm carrying on a legacy. My sister, at 19, is not. Six years are just long enough to put a generation between us; me spending my adolescence smelling like Teen Spirit and carefully emulating the Gen-X zeitgeist's flannel-clad apathy, and she, by contrast, not recalling a time when there wasn't an internet. We were both raised in the same house, surrounded by the same games, endless "gifts" from the PR people. My dad called them "flaks"; I owed them my existence.
Of course, all of my benefactors were hoping Dad would write something about their game. In 1982 he was working as a writer and editor for a company that published two trade magazines; one covered consumer electronics and major appliances, and the other covered home entertainment software. At a time when too many games competed for too little shelf space, retailers read Dad's magazines to decide what games to stock.
"Competition in the videogame business was extraordinarily fierce at that time," he tells me. "There were easily 40 software companies in the business. ... It was a hit-driven business, and the developers courted anyone who had the potential to influence game sales. PR people constantly approached me to try this or that game, hoping that my writing about it would influence the retailers who read our magazines. Naturally, some of those companies were console makers who produced their own games - and if a PR person wanted me to look at its games, I needed one of its consoles to do that. So, they lent me all this stuff and you were the beneficiary. It was also useful for me to get a second opinion!"
Sounds like a miracle era, both for the child I was and to the writer I am now. Though, as to the latter, the real miracle's in the idea that PR companies once turned back flips to woo any writer who'd cover their games. I write in the age of online media, where the buzz machine makes me worry about my own relevance, and verifying my legitimacy to a PR rep sometimes feels like quivering before a grand inquisitor, as I hope to get a review copy of a single game so I can make rent.
My childhood was joyfully ESRB-free, too. I splattered pixels with gleeful abandon; I played Leisure Suit Larry when I was about 8, when I thought that a journey to the Land of the Lounge Lizards meant I might befriend relaxed reptiles sunning themselves beside the hotel pool. I wonder now whether my parents ever experienced the gripping anxiety about gaming that drives modern parents to charge headlong at developers like angry villagers.