Their First Time — Video Game Luminaries Share Their First Gaming Memories

Peter Molyneux stole money from his grandmother. Chris Taylor made his hands stink of dirty quarters. I blithely played a “Donkey Kong” rip-off called “Pickaxe Pete” — and liked it.

These are the essential components of our very first video game memories. Late last week I asked a group of people in and around the video game industry to share with me — and with you — their very first, hazy memories of playing a video game. Molyneux, Taylor and a dozen others — including the Multiplayer team — offer their first recollections below.

Read on to see how lifelong obsessions with video games begin. Then tell me, what’s your first memory of playing a video game?

Brian Allgeier, Creative Director, “Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction”

First Gaming Memory: I was about nine years old and my family was vacationing in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We were at a hotel and my brother had just run full speed into a sliding glass door (Darn invisible collision walls). While my mother tended to his wounds, my Dad entered the room giddy with excitement. He wanted to show me some new amazing thing he had just found. We rushed outside and into a nearby pool hall. In the center of the smoke filled room was a shiny “Pac-Man” arcade cabinet. We played a few quarters and I remember being mesmerized by that yellow pixilated critter gobbling up dots in a neon blue maze. Oddly enough, that was probably the first and last time I ever saw my Dad get excited about a videogame.


Jonathan Blow, Game Designer, “Braid”

First Gaming Memory: “Combat” on the Atari 2600. I was unbeatable on the Tank-Pong levels (bouncing bullets!) I liked “Air-Sea Battle” better, but “Combat” was the canonical 2600 game, and being the pack-in, probably the first game anyone would boot up.


Jason Cipriano, Producer, MTV Multiplayer

First Gaming Memory: My initial reaction to thinking about the first game I remember playing was “Jeopardy” on my older brother’s Commodore 64 (which I subsequently broke shortly thereafter by pressing all the keys at once – who knew?), but upon further reflection I realized that it was, in actuality, “Snoopy and The Red Baron” (released in 1983). While I can’t quite place an age on it, I remember I was playing at an older neighbor’s house, on his 2600, and remember how great I thought the game was. Back then it seemed to all make sense – the flying around, trying to catch the popsicles and root beer mugs, however, returning to the game years later I realized it was just a weird version of “Defender” and made very little sense, and barely even had the Red Baron in it.


N’Gai Croal, blogger, Newsweek’s Level Up

First Gaming Memory: My first memory of playing a computer game dates back to the early ’80s. My father was studying for a master’s degree at the time, and from time to time he would take me and my two sisters with him to the university computer lab on weekends, where they had a couple of Apple IIs. If they weren’t in use, he’d give us a floppy disc that had several games on it, which in hindsight had probably been pirated by one of his fellow students. I don’t remember all of the games on the disc, but I do remember “Snack Attack.” Even at 10 or 11, I knew it was a cheap “Pac-Man” imitator, but even so, it still seemed like the greatest thing in the word, and my father would have to drag us away when it was time to go.


Julian Eggebrecht, President, Factor 5

First Gaming Memory: My first memory of video gaming was on the Interton 4000, probably in 1978. The Interton was an obscure German video game system which was quite advanced for it’s time. Of course they were driven out of business later but Interton had a few good years with Atari being behind in marketing the 2600 in Europe. As for games, of course there was “Combat“, which was 4-pixels representing tanks and planes shooting at each other, and, on the complex side, a plane “simulator” called “Cockpit” which as a high point had you bailing out by parachute while you were crashing your precious 747. It even had an 8×8 pixel “3D” screen. These games and an Atari “Night Driver” arcade game at our local airport were my first conscious encounters with video games, since in Germany arcades are not accessible for minors. Ah, the sounds of Abba and the constant haze of cigarette smoke everywhere while I try to explain how to use a joystick to my parents, that’s my 70s. On that note, my Mom didn’t get “Combat” and “Pac-Man,” but I did get her hooked on “Rock Band” and “Wii Sports” over the holidays, 30 years later!


Tracey John, blogger, MTV Multiplayer

First Gaming Memory: The first time I played a video game that I can remember…I was about 7 years old, and I played “Super Mario Bros.” and “Duck Hunt” on the Nintendo Entertainment System (it was the bundle that included both games on one cartridge, two controllers and the Zapper). My parents had bought it for my sister and me, and I can remember the two of us playing it in the living room in a Brooklyn apartment, probably sitting less than a foot away from the TV taking turns playing Mario and Luigi and actually touching the TV screen with the tip of the Zapper as we tried to shoot ducks (we got in trouble for that). A little later on, I played plenty of educational fare like “Reader Rabbit,” “Odell Lake,” “Oregon Trail” and “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” as well as game show stuff like “Jeopardy,” “Wheel of Fortune” and “Family Feud” on the computer at home and school. But whenever I was “sick” from school, I would play “Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards” installed on my dad’s work computer. He even helped me answer the “age verification” questions (I think that’s when I learned about The Beatles and The Rolling Stones) so I could play. The most crude thing I ever made Larry do was “take a leak.” So Jack Thompson, I am living proof that being exposed to adult content in video games at a young age did not have a negative effect on me. I turned out okay, right? Right?!?!


Ludwig Kietzmann, blogger, Joystiq

First Gaming Memory: I wish I could have started out on some frighteningly obscure and thought-provoking title, but my first gaming memory sees me playing a variant of “Space Invaders” on a grimy keyboard and a yellowed CGA monitor. The hand-me-down hardware didn’t run anything “useful” — according to my father — but those first bleeps and bloops mesmerized me to no end. I wonder how many aliens have died by my hands since then?


Frank Lantz, Game Designer, Area Code

First Gaming Memory: I remember “Pong.” Maybe it was Sears “Pong,” maybe the Magnavox Odyssey, I really don’t know. Honestly, my first really vivid gaming memory was much later, playing the Infocom “Hitchhiker’s Guide” game on a friend’s computer. I remember one snowy Christmas vacation playing “Hitchhiker” obsessively and it was that feeling, where even when we weren’t playing, when we were hanging out downstairs doing family Christmas stuff, we had one foot in this other universe, and we couldn’t wait to get back upstairs to that dark room with the little amber screen and this impossibly cool new form of magic literature.


Peter Molyneux, Founder, Lionhead Studios

First Gaming Memory: It would have to be the original “Pong.” I can clearly remember seeing it a shop window on Guildford High Street and being utterly transfixed – I had never wanted anything so much – in fact I stole money from my grandmother’s purse to buy it. I got it home took it apart and never got it to work again but from that moment on I was hooked on all things to do with computer games.


Frank O’Connor, Writer, Bungie Studios

First Gaming Memory: I’m old enough that my first gaming memory was of playing “Pong” on a creamy-white, off-brand “Pong” multi-system. It was at a friend’s house in Scotland when I was a wee lad of about seven. I remember being astounded that this machine had at least eight different variations of “Pong.” But my most intense young gaming memory was of playing “Combat” on the Atari 2600. If I remember correctly, it had 52 different game types, mostly variations on a hunt and kill theme. Now that I think about it, gaming in those days was almost by necessity a multiplayer experience and demonstrated that almost every game is fun, if you just have a real opponent.


Kellee Santiago, President, That Game Company

First Gaming Memory: I wish I could tout one of the lesser-known games of my childhood as being my first, but unfortunately things didn’t play out for me that cool. My dad was a software engineer and I grew up around computers, so I know I must have played all sorts of little DOS games. But the first video game I actually remember is the “Super Mario Bros” arcade cabinet at the Safeway(local grocery store) near my house. I had to have been around 6 or 7, and I remember my little brother and I would play while my mom shopped. When we got the NES at home later that year, it was so magical. To be able to control the cartoon-like character on our own television screen! My mind was totally blown.


Chris Taylor, CEO, Gas Powered Game

First Gaming Memory: My first gaming memory isn’t too exciting, because it’s “PONG!” It’s getting fuzzier and fuzzier as the years go by, and the better memories are in the late seventies, around the time I started sneaking into arcades and playing games like “Space Invaders” and “Asteroids“. Ah, and it’s not just a visual memory of those arcades, it’s the smell of the sizzling electronics that I remember quite well and the cigarettes burning the plastic on top of each machine, and the stench of coin that would get left on your hands after you finished depositing a handful of quarters…


Stephen Totilo, blogger, MTV Multiplayer

First Gaming Memory: I don’t know when I first heard about video games, but the first one I remember playing was “Pickaxe Pete.” It was sort of a “Donkey Kong” rip-off released for the Odyssey2. That’s the first console my parents bought me and my older brother. It had some other classics like the “Pac-Man” rip-off “K.C. Munchkin” (see a pattern?). I can picture sitting in the living room on our brown carpet with the system hooked up to the front of the TV. I enjoyed it, but what did I know? I was six or seven years old, too young to know the great things my neighbors were probably enjoying on their Atari 2600s.”


Pete Wanat, Producer, “Scarface: The World Is Yours”

First Gaming Memory: I spent my summers growing up on the Connecticut shore on the Long Island Sound, it was another world from northern New Jersey. One of the best parts of going to the shore was the local store that was a heaven for candy and soda etc… But the best part of the store was the four pinball machines that it had up front. One year at the beginning of the summer I ran down to see what coin operated amusement would be provided and to my amazement there were only three pinball games and a new kind of game with a TV in it. The game was called “Gun Fight” — it was two banditos shooting at each other. It was amazing!!! Pinball seemed to fall flat after that, from than on, it was all about what the new arcade games would come in for residency at the store. “Space Invaders“, “Asteroids,” and “Pac-Man” all followed in subsequent summers, but I was hooked… Video had killed the Pinball Wizard.


Multiplayer readers, it’s your turn. What is your first memory of playing a video game?