I’ve been a Geek for nearly my entire life. I remember fiddling with pinball machines, in the days before Pac-Man hit our shores… and I needed to stand on a milk crate to do it. Throughout the years I’ve always tinkered with technology – leading to Memoirs of an Italian Geek – but it’s not often that you realize just how far back your memory goes…
…and when you do, it feels like a kick in the dick.
I took some down time and read up on some history over at The Dot Eaters, cuz, well, it was fun. Sorta. It started out as fun. Then it turned scary because I began to realize how my own experiences are intertwined with history.
I started the fun with a pre-Boom edition of an Atari VCS… as in Christmas time, 1977. It had to be. My grandfather died on Christmas Day night in 1978 and we had already had it by 1979. So I’m betting 1977. I remember the huge push to get one; my parents got lucky and snagged one the week before Christmas. And, as the history spells out, it was defective, so we had to get another one. But man, it Pwn3d. I remember taking a day off from school to get Space Invaders when it was released. Whoo! 144 variations!
Anyway, over last weekend I was sitting at a bar and looking at one of those bar-top CRT coin-op games… the name caught my eye: uWink. I couldn’t place it but I remember working with a uClick at some point, so I shrugged it off. Then I read this at The Dot Eaters:
After leaving Atari in ’78, founder Nolan Bushnell goes on to run Chuck E. Cheese, a national chain of pizza parlors/arcades. After a myriad of comeback attempts of varying success, he is currently pinning his hopes on a venture spawned from the failed startup Playnet Technologies, started on July 1, 1999 and called uWink.com, developing internet-based gaming kiosks.
Err… OK. The founder of the company that heavily influenced my electronics experience as a kid is still making machines that are following me in bars now?
But that wasn’t the big one. The big one was computer related, sorta.
When I was still into the VCS, I started reading all types of computer and electronics magazines, including ones from the UK like Personal Computer World… was neat seeing all the different brands and models on both continents. One of things that I thought was interest was this service that was released to the VCS that included a modem… you downloaded games over the modem and played them, all for a subscription. My parents told me “absolutely not!” especially because I already had a membership for game rentals at a [somewhat local] store.
A few years after the 2600 [yes, it wasn’t the VCS by that point] started to show its age I moved onto a Commodore VIC20 and then a Commodore 64… after talking to some of my sister’s friends, I learned about this “new online system” that offered text chat and some other nifty things, so I got a modem and signed up for Quantum-Link [Q-Link]. There’s more about that from the book – since that chapter was a true story – but well, again, I read this in the History:
One of the more interesting and successful of the third-party manufacturers is Control Video Corporation (CVC), with a service called Gameline. The company is created by online information technology visionary William F. Von Meister, who had founded the first commercial online service The Source in June of 1979. His new venture offers downloadable games for the VCS over conventional phonelines through a 1200 baud modem. The programs are stored on a special cartridge called the Master Module, which connects to the phone line. It costs US$49.95 and there is a one-time hook-up fee for the service of US$15. Charges are approximately ten cents a game or $1 for up to an hour of play. It is the first of a planned comprehensive online BBS type of system for the VCS including email, news content, home banking and financial management. But licensing disagreements with most of the big cartridge makers, including Atari, prevents many of the biggest 2600 hits from appearing on the system. Just before the big videogame crash of 1983-84 shoots the whole deal down in flames, CVC president Von Meister is forced out, but not before he brings Marc Seriff and Steve Case into the company. Eventually the company changes its name to Quantum Computer Services in 1985, and then finally in 1989 forms into another online service from the ashes of Quantum… America Online.
I knew what Q-Link had gone on to become, but I didn’t know where Q-Link had came from… or that I had once coveted the bits of the ancient grandfather of AOL. I mean, sure, it’s a small world and all but… well. Wow.
Doesn’t less the impact of knowing that you once used your parents’ money to help fund AOL, does it?