Despite stiff competition from the original Nintendo Entertainment System, Sony PlayStation, and Sega Genesis, the Atari 2600 ranks as my all-time favorite video game system for a few reasons:
1. Cutting Edge Technology (for the 1980s).
First introduced in 1977, the Atari 2600 revolutionized the gaming world by offering gamers the opportunity to play games from interchangeable cartridges using a small base console. Earlier games had been built into the gaming hardware, but Atari’s new style offered players more game options, increased personalization of the gaming experience, and sped the development of newer, more entertaining game software. The Atari offered popular titles such as Pitfall, Pacman, Space Invaders and Combat, which gave kids like me, with short attention spans and endless hours of summer time to kill, a lot of options.
2. Ease of Use.
I was five years old the first time I played the Atari, so the system itself really was so easy to use that even a child could run it. It was just that simple: Stick the game in the slot, power on, toggle for level and play. No disks to scratch and only a couple of options to choose from. I especially appreciated the ability to play on a black and white television, which I did for several years before my parents ponied up for a color one.
Unlike today’s video games, which are rated for their violent content or complexity, Atari games were targeted to a much broader audience and appropriate for all age groups. There was never a game that was inappropriate for my young eyes. If a game required shooting down airplanes or killing a giant space bug, the destruction came in the form of pixilated, slow-mo explosions. Unlike today’s games, which offer blood-spattered scenes of mutilated monsters or dying opposition soldiers, Atari games kept the levity in the game and reality out of it.
4. One word: Joystick.
There’s a reason a joystick is called a joystick. It’s just plain fun to control a spaceship, airplane, or character with a stick and a little red button. The Atari offered players a visceral connection to the game and magically transformed the television into a full-fledged arcade game. This was especially important when I was a kid and people still fed arcade games with an endless supply of quarters. Plus, does anyone believe that a plane or tank should be controlled by pressing directional buttons with their thumbs?
If I were on a desert island and could choose only one video game system to play for the rest of my days, I’d go with the Atari 2600 – even if it were on a black and white TV.