Child's Play

from Electronic Gaming Monthly, 10/14/2003

[It is worth noting that, at the time of posting, 2022, the children interviewed here are now themselves in their mid- to late-thirties, maybe early forties.],4364,1338730,00.asp

Would today's tykes tolerate the classic games you grew up with? Kids do say the darndest things in this uncut version of an EGM article—now with a bonus game not included in the original story!

By Crispin Boyer and Shawn Elliott

Your average gamer these days is in his late 20s—young enough to still find new ways to destroy brain cells, old enough to worry about bills and 401ks, and wise enough to reminisce about the good ol' days of videogames. But was the age of Pong, Atari, Mattel handheld football, and Donkey Kong really all that great, or are we just blinded by fuzzy, warm nostalgia?

That's the question we asked—and answered—back in the November issue of EGM, in which we rounded up nine children of the PlayStation generation—ages 9 to 12—and forced them to play a variety of titles from the late '70s to the mid-'80s. Now read what the little scamps had to say, plus check their comments on a bonus game—Super Mario Bros.—that got cut from the EGM article. If you grew up with these classics, prepare to feel very old.

Note: Everything written here was actually said by these kids. Really. The only change we made was to remove the more gratuitous usages of the word "gay".


Atari • 1975

Atari's home version of its simple ball-and-paddle coin-op became the first smash-hit console and made videogames a new pastime in the swinging '70s.

Niko: Hey—Pong. My parents played this game.

Brian: It takes this whole console just to do Pong?

Kirk: What is this? [Picks up and twists the paddle controller] Am I controlling the volume?

John: I'm just going to do this [twists the paddle controller as rapidly as possible].

Tim: John, don't do that. You'll die.

Andrew: This is a lot like that game. Um, whatchamacallit—air hockey.

Sheldon: Except worse.

Andrew: Blip. Blip. Blip. Blip.

Becky: I don't even see the point of having sound on this.

Andrew: Wow. The score is tied. It's so exhilarating.

Brian: I saw a documentary on this. The game was so popular in arcades that it got jammed up with quarters.

John: In this thing? [Points to the Pong game console]

Tim: I would never pay to play something like this.

John: I'd sooner jump up and down on one foot. By the way, is this supposed to be tennis or Ping-Pong?

Becky: Ping-Pong.

Gordon: It doesn't even go over the net. It goes through it. I don't even think that thing in the middle is a net.

Tim: My line is so beating the heck out of your stupid line. Fear my pink line. You have no chance. I am the undisputed lord of virtual tennis. [Misses ball] Whoops.

John: Tim, how could you miss that? It was going like 1 m.p.h.

Sheldon: Hey, why does it say Sears on the controller?

EGM: Sears sold it for Atari.

Andrew: Isn't Sears, like, a clothing company?

Becky: Sears makes everything. Actually, I've never been in there.

EGM: Guess how much this thing cost when it came out.

Kirk: Twenty bucks?

EGM: Higher.

Brian: $50?

EGM: Higher.

Brian: $100?

EGM: Yep.

Kirk: My God—I could almost buy a PS2 for that. I'm sure when this came out, it was better than whatever else was out. Want to play chess with me, son? No way, Dad.

Brian: I want to play Pong!

Tim: Oh, I'm starting to suck. John, you drained my skill.

John: Yes, I used a power-up.

Tim: What? There's no power-ups in Pong. The concept of a power-up hadn't been invented yet.

Donkey Kong

Arcade • 1981

The first breakout hit from master game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, Donkey Kong debuted mustachioed hero Mario.

Becky: It looks like a Mario that got run over by a car.

Andrew: Really. I mean the man is almost flat.

Gordon: He's a funny color.

Sheldon: His face looks pink.

Becky: What color is he supposed to be? Green? And why can't we get past this first level?

Andrew: Someone take over before I lose my dignity. [Mario picks up the hammer power-up]

Andrew and Niko: Hey, that's from Super Smash Bros.

Andrew: So that's where they got the idea from.

Gordon: Nooo!

Andrew: You got the hammer and you still got killed.

Tim: Mario dies way too easy. Oh, grab the umbrella. Those are cool. Unfashionable, gay, but cool. Oh, 300 points. That's it? All you get is points? That's lame. Can't you do something with the umbrella?

Tim: They just put totally random stuff here for points. Oh, you've got an umbrella. You've got a purse.

John: Watch out, Tim—fire. It's smarter than you think.

Tim: It's strange that fire moves in this and has eyes. Oh no, the fire's coming. It's going to eat you. Are these barrels alive, too? Everything's alive. And Donkey Kong's mouth is made of pluses. Look: Plus, plus, plus, minus. They're trying to teach you math by brainwashing you.

Brian: How can you die from a fall of a whopping 3 inches?

Kirk: He's only an inch tall. He's a little short fat guy who eats way too much pizza.

EGM: Who's that chick Mario is rescuing up there?

Brian: It's Princess Peach.

Kirk: It's a hooker.

Niko: She looks cut in half.

Tim: Oh wow—she's one of those pole dancers.

Handheld Football

Mattel • 1977

Everyone who grew up in the '70s owned one of these portable two-player pigskin sims, which used red LED lights to represent players.

Brian: What's this supposed to be?

EGM: Football. It's one of the first great portable games.

Brian: I thought it was Run Away From the Dots.

John: I don't see how this has anything remotely to do with football.

EGM: Which team are you playing?

Kirk: The red lines.

Tim: They could've just as easily called this game anything—Baseball, Bowling, Escape From the Monsters.

EGM: Did you score?

Kirk: I bumped into a dot.


Arcade • 1988

Spawned in Russia and the target of hundreds of imitators, Tetris is the original superaddictive puzzle game.

Tim: Which button do I press to make the blocks explode?

EGM: Sorry, they don't explode.

Becky: This is boring. Maybe if it had characters and stuff and different levels, it would be OK. If things blew up or something or—

Sheldon: If there were bombs.

Becky: Yeah, or special bricks. Like, if a yellow brick touched a red brick it would blow up and you'd have to start over.

John: Why haven't I won yet? I've paired up so many of the same color.

EGM: Don't worry about colors.

John: I just lined up six of the same color. Why didn't they blow up?

EGM: Nothing blows up.

Bonus game: Super Mario Brothers

NES • 1986

A timeless classic, this game refined the side-scrolling platformer formula and helped sell millions of Nintendo Entertainment Systems. You didn't read this commentary in EGM—it's an online exclusive.

Kirk: We're not going to play any mature games, are we?

Tim: I think mushrooms are like steroids in this. See how you get bigger and stronger?

EGM: What do you think of those graphics?

Niko: In those days it was like, "Whoa—awesome!" But now... it's no Splinter Cell.

EGM: In those days? What days are those?

Becky: My mom and dad's days.

John: The graphics are simple. At least the screen actually moves in this game.

Brian: This is Mario's world. It's supposed to look simple. You have mushrooms walking around. What do you expect?

Brian: No, they're Koopas. My last name's Cooper, so it works. And the King Koopa's my dad.

Tim: What's the Queen Koopa like?

Brian: They also had that Super Mario Brothers movie—

Tim: That had nothing remotely to do with this. They had, like, laser guns that turned people into monkeys. What the hell is that?

E.T. the Extra- Terrestrial

Atari 2600 • 1983

The original lousy licensed game, E.T. had players fishing phone parts and Reese's Pieces from holes in the ground. EGM voted it the worst game of all time. We forced the kids to play it because.... well, we had to when we were little. Why shouldn't they suffer, as well?

[E.T. falls into a pit]

Tim: What just happened?

John: Ah, you're trapped forever!

Brian: This is sad.

Tim: Why did my head just get farther away? I can't get out.

Kirk: Maybe you should try to go over those dark green things.

Tim: I'm trying. I don't know how.

John: He's using his E.T. powers! What does this have to do with the movie? I don't remember the parts where E.T. falls into pits and makes his neck longer....

Kirk: Quit falling into the stupid pit, you piece of s***!

Tim: Can I stop now?

Brian: This controller's crap; you need to sit on top of the TV to play.

[An icon appears in the pit]

John: Yay! You got a...thing.

EGM: What did you get?

John: A backwards C?

Brian: Reese's Pieces? Am I in a different pit this time?

[Ten minutes later, Brian escapes the pit]

Tim: Whoa, someone has you!

John: It's a lady.

Tim: No it's not. Her hair is E.T.

Sheldon: No! No! Not E.T.! Kill! Kill! Kill E.T.! Glock E.T.!

John: This game is so confusing.

Kirk: No wonder it's the worst ever.

Brian: A flower grew!

Kirk: Piss on it.

Tim: Oh look—it's a dork! [Points to Elliott on the screen]

John: He put himself inside your body. He bestowed his life force upon you.

Tim: [Points to lava lamp on TV stand] That thing's more interesting.

John: Yeah, let's watch the lamp. It's more fun and less predictable.

Tim: E.T. is unpredictable: You never know when you'll fall into a pit or when a kid is gonna enter your body...I mean use your skin as his own.

Nico: Didn't they bury this game in Mexico or something?

Gordon: Is that a woman?

Becky: It's Zeus. He's taking you away to the Acropolis.

Andrew: The point of E.T. is to see how bad they can piss you off...

Nico: ...before you turn it off.

Becky: Maybe another movie company that didn't want you to like E.T. made this game.

Andrew: Yeah, it was some sort of corporate sabotage.

Sheldon: Hurry, make him die!

Gordon: Please.

[E.T. finally dies—general clapping and hurrahs]

Andrew: Eeeeeteeeee phone home.

Space Invaders

Arcade • 1978

This 25-year-old shooter was the first arcade game to become a national sensation.

EGM: This game was so popular in Japan that—

John: They made it into a TV show?

EGM: Well, no. It was so popular that they ran out—

John: Oh, did they make collectible trading cards for it?

EGM: Um, no. It was so popular that there was a shortage of the coins used to play it.

John: But you can get this game on a cell phone. Why would you want to pay for it in an arcade?

Andrew: I've seen a game like this in the arcade, but it's tons faster.

Sheldon: ...and it's in color.

Andrew: ...and your spaceship looks more like a spaceship.

Nico: ...and not like a little box.

Gordon: It looks like food.

Andrew: Where's my rapid fire?

Nico: The aliens look like spiders...

Becky: ...and squids and crabs.

John: Maybe this is what seafood will do in a thousand years.

EGM: How long could you play this game before you got bored?

Sheldon: About 15 minutes.

Andrew: If you take it on the road and play it on your cell phone, then you might play it pretty long.

Nico: There's nothing else to do.

Andrew: Except look at nature.

EGM: Would you rather play this or play outside?

Andrew: Outside.

Nico: This game needs a super bomb or something.

Tim: This is nothing compared to Grand Theft Auto III, because you can't steal a taxi cab, pick up somebody, then drive into the ocean with him.

Kirk: And you can't pick up an AK-47 and go kill—hey, those aliens on the top row, you use them in EGM for stuff.

EGM: Yeah, we use them to end our articles. They do kinda look like they're from Space Invaders, don't they?

Tim: They're going to sue you.

Kirk: I'm sure everyone who made this game is dead by now.

Return to Introduction to Essays
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop