Thursday, January 26, 2006

Earliest Memories of Computing

Note: This post was written for my dad's blog chronicaling peoples Earliest Memories of Computing. If you're interested in more similar stories check out his site and contribute!

My generation, for the first time in history, grew up with personal computers in our homes. For as far back as many of us can remember, we've been word processing, loading games off of 8 1/2 inch floppies, and making art with Kid Pix instead of finger paints. Sure digital computers have been around three times as long as I've been alive, and some of the principles have been around much longer (you could get as silly dating computers back to the abacus or perhaps claim the basic theory has been around since the Church-Turing thesis of 1948).

I didn't just grow up with computers though, I grew up with Macs. In fact, until College the DOS-prompt, Windows, blue-screen-of-death world of PCs held an unknowable mystique. For me, computers were "happy" (and yes, occasionally "sad" or "blinking question mark") mac icons, "hello" greetings, and HyperCard. A "computer" was a bulky tan box which consisted mostly of a screen with a little 8 1/2 inch floppy below it whose resemblance to a mouth gave the Mac a cheerfull, friendly countenance. (Incidentally, computer anthropomorphism has been used by Apple since as well. Adds for the revolutionary new iMac design featured it mimicking an observer's motions).
I remember our Apple 2e, although we might have had computers older than that. The earliest macs I remember had no hard drive at all. Each program contained the operating system and program you wanted to run. I think at some point we had two floppy drives which meant we could keep one dedicated to the operating system and switch programs at will! Beside the computer there were a few large storage cases full of disks. In particular I remembered an amazing dungeon crawl game where you moved your avatar through a dungeon filled with monsters and items and made of square tiles of alternating colors like a chess board. After some Google research I finally rediscovered this gem: Dungeon of Doom! I also remember playing Artillery (another classic where you and an opponent take turns aiming and shooting your cannons at each other, adjusting your settings with each shot). I must have been in kindergarten or earlier. Like many my age I've been using computers as long as I've been able to grasp a mouse.

Helicopter Pilot, Shufflepuck, Daleks, Glider, Cairo Shootout, Banzai, Wheel... these are games I grew up on. I remember my three or four disks full of games being a treasured posetion. We were not a TV watching family (my dad only got us a color TV when I convinced myself that the black and white Star Trek episodes that we would watch every week were in color) and in a way the computer took its place.

Over all these years and through my rude reintegrated with the PC world (which I avoided all the way until college) I've retained a few important things from those early macs: a love of computers, a love of computer games, a fascination with being able to "communicate to" (program) a computer in its language, and a love for the aesthetic side of computers.

My life, even my career and friends, were definitely, if not obviously, influenced strongly by my constant silicon childhood companions. I've done independent thesis research on interfaces and human computer interaction. My fascination with the almost magical ability type commands into the computer in the right way and before your eyes see your instructions carried out, would lead me to my undergraduate degree and my current profession. The computer games I played as a child even shaped my hobbies today. I never stopped playing computer games (although I did start making my own), but my love of board, role-playing, and card games I think all stems from hours playing Dungeon of Doom and Artillery on the Mac. I suppose in a way it's ironic that these computer games would be my gateway to the very traditional game media which inspired the computer games to begin with.

Game Over.


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