On the cold morning of 25th of December 1991, my twelve year-old self bounded down-stairs at what I now consider the ungodly hour of 6 am, shoving my little brother out of the way in keeping with the seasonal spirit. We had been awake for some time before, but our parents had a strict “not until 6” policy that we were to adhere to on Christmas morning. My sister was approaching her second birthday and was not as exited about Christmas as my brother (who was 10) and I.
When we finally burst through the door of our front room and ran directly to the small pile of wrapped gifts strewn on the floor around the Christmas tree our focus was entirely on what our “Big present” would be. My brother and I always had a “Big present”, the one that was the centrepiece of our holiday. Most of the other gifts would be what my parents referred to as wrap-ups, books, videotapes, games etc. We would always have an orange and some hazel nuts in our stockings, as it was traditional in our house. We tore at the wrapping, which my mother had spent hours perfecting without regard for her labour, and revelled in joy at the gifts it hid. But something was up. My brother and I kept looking at one another after opening the larger presents and finding board games and books, socks and other things that Aunties think 12 year-olds would like, unable to recognise what was different.
Once all the gifts were unwrapped and there was, in-fact, no bike, pool table or such-like, my brother and I noticed our parents watching us with large smiles pasted across their faces. Behind them, on the dining table, which we had rushed past in our eagerness to get to the loot, was an Amiga 500, set up and switched on in all it’s 16-bit glory. Our parents were rightly amused and I look back on our behaviour that morning with a mild shame, but I was a child and knew no better at the time.
Despite our ordinary state of constant competitiveness my brother and I played for hours, and later days, weeks, months and a couple of years, together, fairly and with good humour. We played Lemmings, Rick Dangerous and Captain Planet to name but a few and there, on that cold Christmas morning, my real love affair with gaming began. I had computers before the Amiga. I’d had a Spectrum ZX, a Commodore 64 (with such ground breaking titles as Harrier Carrier and IK plus) and other, simple game machines, but they were slow to load and used cassette tapes. The Amiga 500 had a floppy disc drive and many, many games. I could never get bored with it and it only got better as time went on. Basic games made way for more and more complex games like Sensible Soccer and, eventually, mammoths of gaming experience such as Frontier: Elite 2. There was always something new and exciting coming out and that sense of limitless game-play and infinite possibilities is why I can trace my gaming career back to that Christmas day 18 years ago.
Those games seem very basic now and it’s almost a mystery why such games should have seemed so advanced at the time. I wonder if in 18 years from now I’ll look back at the Xbox 360, fondly, and wonder how I was so engrossed by simple 3-D graphics, surround sound and real-world physics engines that powered such “basic” games as Assassin’s Creed, GTA 4 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.