Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Atari Generation's Renaissance

In Edge magazine’s January 2012 Issue #E236, the article "An Accidental Empire: How Apple became the hottest property in portable video gaming" cited this eye popping stat:

“In 2011, Apple’s iOS platform - combined with Google’s Android OS - is expected to account for 58 percent of the entire mobile market.  That’s compared to 34 percent in 2010, and a little under 20 percent in 2009.  It’s snowball growth, and it’s still picking up speed.”

I suspect that my generation, the Atari Generation, is rolling that snowball.  We are the Baby Bust (coming after those born in the Baby Boom from 1946-1964), and we are the ones introduced to Atari in the 1970s.  It all began with Pong, a simple blip on the television that we bounced back and forth like tennis.  Then came 1977 when the godfather of gaming blew our minds away - the Atari 2600.  It introduced us to joysticks and game cartridges.

If memory serves, my parents bought us boys this magic machine for Christmas in 1977.  It came bundled with Combat - a tank game.  My older brother and I broke several joysticks battling each other.  Soon we, the Atari Generation, became the first to endlessly harass our parents for more video games.
But we grew up, and a lot us grew out of gaming.  I admit to hating the Sony Playstation and Xbox 360 controllers.  My nephews now annihilate me in everything from HALO to Star Wars.  They know all the options for the buttons, I don’t.  Wii and Kinect are much more fun, but I do not own them--my nephews do.  Like others in the Atari Generation, we’d probably not be playing any of these game systems if it weren’t for the kids.
But then came iPhones and iPads.  A quiet revolution took place.  The Atari Generation started playing games again.  ALL THE TIME.  On the airplane, between meetings, during commercials, we indulge in the entertaining escapism that Atari engrained in us.  No endless options or buttons.  Just the simplicity of using our fingers.  My wife has almost mastered every Angry Birds app produced.  A friend told me via text that I had to get Infinity Blade, but I want to finish mastering Lord of the Rings/Two Towers/Return of the King first.  Almost everyone in my posse owns an iPhone.  We’re all addicted.  It wasn’t this way just a few years ago.  We never talked video games, EVER.

I find it fascinating that the founders of Apple share a fundamental connection with Atari.  Walter Isaacson retells the story of Steve Jobs arriving in the Atari lobby in 1974 “wearing sandals and demanding a job” and refusing to leave until they hired him.  Up to that point Pong was Atari’s big hit.  Jobs recruited his friend Steve Wozniak (the other future co-founder of Apple) to work on the video game Breakout.  That’s the first Atari game my wife ever played.  Who knew that such a distant gaming experience would get a reboot? 

Our generation came full circle with video games when Apple innovated the iPhone in 2007.  Without it there would be no Android and no portable gaming revolution to supplant our nephews’ Nintendo DS and Sony PSP devices.  And though Jobs and Wozniak started building their first computer in a garage in 1976, a year before the Atari 2600 ruled the gaming world, by 2012 Apple dominates as the largest technology company on Earth.  Its unintentional legacy is reconnecting us with the thrill of gaming.  The Atari Generation’s Renaissance is alive and kicking.