What Was the First Computer Game You Ever Played?

October 25th, 2006 by TheGameCollector

Eric's First Computer GamesAbout a month ago, RedWolf posted a column about the first computer he ever used, and it started me thinking about my specialty: computer games. What was the first computer game, of any sort, that I played? I’ve spent some time thinking about it and sorting through the memories, and while I haven’t quite arrived at a definite answer, the list can be narrowed down to a handful of titles. They may not be the absolute earliest games I ever touched, but these are the ones that drew me into the whole sordid world of being a computer geek.

Oregon TrailI could take the easy way out, and claim that The Oregon Trail was it and end the discussion there. The Trail was introduced to my whole generation during the early years of elementary school, while we sat in a library full of Apple ][‘s and had a teacher drone on about how to insert a floppy into the drive and close the door. Every school I attended seemed to love having students play it during the “pioneer” section of Social Studies class, but it honestly didn’t make a great impression on me. It seemed boring, repetitious, and almost impossible to win. And while I, like all normal kids, enjoyed leaving my path westward littered with dead animals and broken limbs, it wasn’t a title I sought out on my own for entertainment. It was too much a part of school work to ever be much of a game.

Nights of the Living Apple

Castle WolfensteinThough I wasn’t terribly keen on The Oregon Trail, that’s not to say I didn’t find some fun stuff to play on the Apple. My brother was especially kind in providing me a box full of “backup” copies of some programs he had. I was about 13 years old at the time, and my father had just started going back to school for a computer programming degree. On evenings and weekends I would accompany him to the local community college, where the Apple lab was housed in a converted trailer. With me would come my trusty box of error-prone floppy disks, and I would while away a few hours playing games.

Castle WolfensteinOne that drew me back time after time was the original Castle Wolfenstein. Long before BJ Blazkowicz’s meteoric rise to fame in Wolfenstein 3D, the allied prisoner was charged with escaping from a top-down version of the typical Nazi dungeon, shooting guards, throwing grenades, and searching for the Reich’s battle plans along the way. I often ended the game with BJ lying in a bloody, crumpled heap at the feet of some SS trooper, forcing a reboot and another try.

Sun Tsu's The Ancient Art of WarThen there was Archon, which VC&G had a great writeup on last winter. I never did pick up the finer points that Medarch brought out in his article, but I enjoyed the unique combination of action and strategy, and had a blast running around trying to kill those stupid little goblins. I just wish I could find an updated version that would take advantage of current technology. Sun Tsu’s The Ancient Art of War was another great strategy title I played, and its gameplay mechanics were strikingly similar to Archon, although it had a much different style. An overhead map gave the player a bird’s eye view of the whole battlefield, complete with rivers, woods, fortifications, and armies. When enemy units collided, the screen switched to a detailed view of the battle, where swordsmen and archers would fight it out hand-to-hand to determine the victor. The game had a surprisingly large number of configurable options, from choosing which war the player fought to choosing which leader the player fought as. I’m still impressed with how well-designed this early RTS was.

Leather Goddesses of PhobosThe last of the Apple games that sticks out in my mind as being an early contender was Infocom’s classic text adventure, Leather Goddesses of Phobos. It was a great game, especially for a 13-year old who knew enough to lie when the “Lewd Mode” age verification came up. And when it comes down to it, “Lewd Mode” is what kept me going back to Goddesses. I never really cared for text adventures that much, and they frustrated the crap out of me, but just the minuscule chance to see boobies (the word, mind you, not the actual items) enticed me to play. What a sad little perv I was.

Days of Mac and Roses

EGA TrekShortly after my flirtations with Apple games, the college finished a new CompSci building complete with a state-of-the-art Macintosh lab in the basement. I had two reasons for making my way there every week – the spicy Tostitos chips in the vending machine, and the Star Trek game that had been loaded on the Macs. If you’ve ever played EGA Trek, you’ll know the type of game I mean – a dot-grid on the left, text-based control readouts to the right and below, and ships represented by ASCII characters. I would while away a couple of hours a week performing long-range scans for enemies and refueling when my ship ran low. Soon, though, I found out that this particular game sported a feature I had never seen or imagined – network play.

EGA TrekOne of the college students actually pointed this out to me, and the two of us spent that afternoon hunting each other between stars and through empty space, taking time to kill off the occasional Klingons and Romulans who dared our wrath. Galactic domination was within our reach when a new enemy popped up on our scanners and systematically tore our ships apart. With nobody else in the lab, I looked through the hallway window and saw the lab tech, sitting at his station and grinning at me. I jumped back into the fray, of course, but my youthful reflexes were no match for the technician’s guile and experience.

The ULTIMAte in Games

Ultima VIThen came the day when my father arrived home with a brand-new 286 IBM-compatible PC, boasting a whopping 40 MB hard drive and 16 MB of RAM. The males in my family were soon hooked on role-playing games, and I eventually persuaded a friend of mine to loan me his copy of Ultima VI. This, to my young eyes, was a masterpiece. The world was so incredibly detailed and the storyline was so intriguing that for the first time in my life, I found myself forgoing sleep for the chance to explore just one more cavern. I contemplated whether stealing the glass sword was worth the reputation hit it would cause, and I stared for so long at the translation card that I began to read Brittanian rune-signs fluently. I was converted, mind and soul, to this new cult of computer gaming, and I never looked back.

Eric Lambert's Ultima 6 CertificateI spent hours poking my Avatar’s nose into every corner of Lord British’s realm, and finally, after many long days and longer nights, I resolved the crisis of the Gargoyles and saw peace return to the land. I packed away my homemade hot-air balloon and sheathed my sword, and basked in the warm glow of that final congratulations screen, which showed just how many hundreds of hours I had devoted to my addiction. As a reward for successfully finishing the game, I was given instructions on receiving an official Certificate of Completion, signed by Lord British himself.

Might and MagicOf course, as much as I hate to admit it, Ultima VI wasn’t my only love when it came to games on the new-fangled IBM PC. My father and I spent countless hours teaming up against the mysteries and puzzles of the original Might and Magic. Lacking an automap function, the game came packaged with a pad of grid paper specifically designed to help amateur cartographers figure out just where in the world (literally) they were. With my dad piloting the keyboard, I would sit by his side dutifully graphing out every square block of city and wilderness while playing the role of navigator. (Head over to Replacementdocs.com to take a look at some of the Clue Books, which contain all of the maps for the early M&M games.)

Back to the Beginning

Looking back, it seems that my dad was a big influence in my gaming. Our quality time growing up wasn’t spent watching sports programs or rebuilding car engines – it happened quietly in front of a glowing screen, with occasional bursts of laughter and curses. But to get back to my original question: What was the earliest computer game I played? Well, I wouldn’t swear to anything under oath, but it seems that the first one that really stuck in my mind was a simple hand-programmed Air/Sea Battle knock-off. My dad typed it in on the Kaypro 2 that sat on his desk when I was eight and entertained me with it one day when I visited him at work. That’s the one that started me on this long road. Almost 25 years later, I can look back and point to the beginning of an era. And now that I get the chance to share games with my son, it’s become something of a tradition.

So how about it? What was the first PC game you remember playing? What was it that grabbed on and wouldn’t let go? Log in and fill up the comments section with your own memories.

36 Responses to “What Was the First Computer Game You Ever Played?”

  1. KitsuneDarkStalker Says:

    Actually, it was Eradicator for the DOS PC.

  2. GameCollector Says:

    I think I remember playing a demo of Eradicator from a PC Gamer magazine. I was sufficiently impressed that I kept my eyes open for it, but never wound up with my own copy.

  3. cool52girl Says:

    My first game I ever played was on the atari and that was space invaders my first dos based game was nahjong and it was a really good game considering it was dos pc and on a 51/4 disc.

  4. Dennis P Says:

    The only memorable early game for me was “Rendezvous with Rama” on the Apple IIe. It was text-based and unless you typed in exactly the right words you were dead in the water which led to hours of teeth gnashing. The first DOS game I can recall was “Bard’s Tale.” In the early stages of the game it wasn’t Hit Points – it was Being Hit Points. Must have restarted that one thirty times…

    PC games advanced a lot more quickly than the platform so QEMM – Quarterdeck Memory Manager – quickly became a must to eke out as much of that magical 540K of base memory as possible.

  5. aarky Says:

    i dont remember what game i started on on the pc. so im going to say oregon trail.. horrible graphix.. but it was good at the time i guess.

  6. Jurgi/Tristesse/Atari8.Info Says:

    The very first game I’ve played was a kind of Pong, when I was a child. It wasn’t a computer game, but rather a video game 😉 – there were only 3 (or sth about) variations of Pong in the box, with paddles as controllers. It was something amazing new and brillant in that ancient times of socialism. I remember the whole class visiting my friend, who got this miracle…
    Next game I’ve seen many years later, a real computer game, was Mission Shark on my friend’s Atari 800XL. The game is still one of the best for this compy. And the we were playing Hammurabi and Hammurabi II – this games may be played by more than two persons, we were plaing them for three..
    When later I’ve got my own Atari 65XE, I started to learn BASIC and I’ve typed a simple game from a book (Atari Basic by mr Migut) – it was very simple clone of Arcanoid, done in textmode. So it was first game on MY OWN compy. The game had a bug (the book came with many typos) and it took me a lot of time to find it. It was missing semicolon at the end of “PRINT” instruction…
    A month later I’ve bought two joysticks and some games on tapes. I don’t remember which one was the first I’ve loaded. It had to be Centipede, or Eggard, or Forbidden Forest. I played the two last intesively, I even beat record in Eggard, I’ve find in Polish gamers magazine (Top Secret). I have also to mention great Draconus – the first killing game for me. After years I still have a map for the game (lately I’ve scanned it: http://mapy.atari8.info/draconus.php – see ‘alternative map ;)). Another “first” was Archon – I broke my first joystick playing this game. And of course at last I was able to play Mission Shark – the game that infected me back with Atari illness. 😉
    Another “firsts”? Hm, when I already bought PC the first game that infected me for a long time was Airfix Dogfighter. I love the idea behing this game. 😉
    Probably you have noticed, that I haven’t mentioned any arcade game. Of course, I played something (Dig Dug… something a’ka submarine simulator) once or two, but I can’t localize the in time. Probably it was after the first contact with Pong. Really, I wasn’t intensive gamer, ever.

  7. Stephen G Says:

    The first computer game (not console) that I can remember was Road Hog for the C=64. My mother, father, and I took turns imputing all the code and I think someone accidentally pulled out the plug on the tape drive and we lost everything when we tried to save it. The first game in general that I remember was a pinball game on the ODYSSEY that my aunt had. Or maybe it was an ODYSSEY2. Its amazing how far we have come in 30 years. I cant wait to see what happens in the next 30.

  8. GameCollector Says:

    Jurgi — That’s an amazingly detailed map you drew. It’s great that you kept it all these years. I wish I still had the original maps from Might & Magic.

  9. Russell S Says:

    The first game I remember playing, which hooked me for life, was a Cammodore 64 game named “Space Taxi”. The fact that they had included digitized speech just FASCINATED me – “Hey, Taxi!” “Pad One, Please”. Not to mention, the graphics were great for the time and gameplay got quite challenging at later levels.

  10. RedWolf Says:

    Yeah, I’m really impressed by Jurgi’s map too!

    Great stories, everyone. Keep ’em coming!

  11. Sissi Says:

    Nice article, thank You

  12. manbigsmoke Says:

    The first game i ever played was sonic the hedgehog. As a little kid, i always loved that game and would stay up for hours playing that game. it was fun and addicting. But those monkeys were annoying!

  13. Curt Winter Says:

    My first Computer Game was space invaders on my TSR-80 Model III loaded from the cassette, before floppy drives where available. Oh the fun of it!

    The worst part was the load time, I would get home from school, start the game loading and hope it loaded correctly by the time I ate dinner, did my chores and my home work …

    The good old days, oh yea the computer had a whopping 16kb of ram ….

  14. Bill McNamara Says:

    i think it was a flight sim type game for the t/s computer. I love space taxi as well.

  15. Paul Pousson Says:

    The first computer game I ever played and which got me stuck on computers and gaming was Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon on my friends Amiga. Stayed at his apt all night on it with him opening an eye now and then to see me still playing on it. Had to get an Amiga 500 with memory chip on one whole Meg after that! Was in Kunsan, Korea at the time in the Air Force. Loved my Amiga! Only switched when I could not find software for it any more. Loved all the old Cineamaware games too, esp Lords of the Rising Sun and It came from the Desert. But Sinbad got me hooked.

  16. Lacey Says:

    I don’t even remember what computer system it was on anymore, because I played it at a cousin’s house… but the Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers game left a great impact on me. 😀

  17. Frank Says:

    My first video games was TV ping pong game my dad put together from a Heath electronics kit. Our first computer games was on the Cammodore but I can not remember the specific game. Zork comes to mind plus many other games I don’t remember the names to.

  18. paul Says:

    the first game i ever played was burger time on mattel intellivision still the coolest game i’ve ever played no matter how many advancements are made in gameplay,graphics etc. would give anything to find that game and system again

  19. Gentlegamer Says:

    I think my first computer game was Kung-Fu on the C64.

  20. Dan Says:

    For me it was Ultima III on a Apple IIe in high school

  21. RedWolf Says:

    The first computer game I ever played was probably either Asteroids, Pac-Man, or Donkey Kong on the Atari 800.

    …or was it Seahorse Hide and Seek?

  22. Jacques Says:

    I started playing games in 1984 with Zork II on a Tandy 1000.
    I loved Zork II and bought up a good portion of Infocom games over the next three years. Even better, I still have them in their original boxes, including the 5.25 disks and the ‘feelies’! 😀

    Moved on to the Sierra and Origin games like King’s Quest, the Ultima series, and of course the now classic “Starflight”.
    I still have the boxed editions of those too.

    I’m currently playing ‘Cube’, a free Open Source FPS available on Source Forge. GREAT graphics, lots of mods and hacks, and a must get for FPS players.

  23. GameCollector Says:

    Jacques — If you ever want to get rid of any of those games – 😉

  24. metsalplix Says:

    The PC first game I ever played was a race car game, similar to the original pole position (but no where near the graphics of that game). My friend had gotten a Timex Sinclair 1000 for his birthday (1000k of memory) and we spent like three hours typing code into this thing to make the game work. It was way cool (in 1982 or 83).

  25. Pat Says:

    First time I ever used anything other than a computer was to play PONG back in the early 1970’s….believe it or not, I still have it.

  26. golgo13 Says:

    The first computer game I ever played was a text based version of Star Trek on a TRS-80 at school.

    It wasn’t too long after that I was playing a Star Trek knock off called Mega Wars online against other players on Compuserve on my Vic-20.

  27. RedWolf Says:

    Actually, metsalplix, the Timex-Sinclair 1000 only had 2k of memory bulit in. That’s roughly 2,000 bytes, which is significantly less than the 1,000,000 bytes you said. 🙂

  28. Jurgi/Tristesse/Atari8.Info Says:

    I still have unfinished map for Price of Magik in my drawer. It was (almost) impossible to get legal copies of western software in that times and the non-legal version lacked working save/load option. So my Atari has been working for about two months with no turning off. I was playing almost non-stop. The single room was taking a square 1×1,5 cm and the map took several big (A4) sheets of paper. And I was far from ending the game, when it hanged-up. Imagine – how they (the Level 9 softhouse) packed it all into 64KBytes. With illustration for each room!
    I hadn’t patience to start again. But I hope, I’ll finish it somewhen. It would be much easier on emulator.
    And, BTW, this game was one of the main English teachers i had. 😉 Another was Ray Cokes on MTV (old, good MTV, the curret one is a piece of sh**). I hope my English is understandable enough. 🙂

  29. George Says:

    I agree with Golgo13. My first computer game was in school on a TRS-80 Model I with a cassette player used for loading the program into memory. If it loaded w/o bugs, it took about 5 minutes. Text-based games: Star Trek, Bismark, Midway Campaign (awesome). PS/2, XBox will never compare with the imagination required to play text-based.

  30. Kevin Says:

    The first computer game I ever played was probably Dogfight on an Apple II+. When you shot down a plane the pilot would bail out with a parachute and continuously fall down the screen, looping back to the top after reaching the bottom. You could shoot the parachuting pilot also.

    Other early games I remember, also for the Apple II+ were: Little Brick Out and Rescue at Rigel, where you had to rescue captives from an alien moon base by finding them in a maze of rooms and then beaming them up to your ship while avoiding/battling aliens.

  31. David Says:

    Super Mario Bros on my dad’s NES when i was like 3… mmm good times.
    (yes im very young)

  32. Binx Says:

    The first computer game i remember playing was putt-putt golf when i was 3 years old… i must have played that 20 times before my parents bought me another game… ah, the good old days

  33. c0ldavatar Says:

    The first video game I played? I really don’t know… but I THINK it was one of these:

    Commander Keen Episode 1
    Avoid the Noid

    I was playing them at 2 years old, this is when i became attached to computers… I was actually showing my mom how to beat parts on commander keen at that age. She told me so 😛 That is why on my bedroom door I have the J!NX sticker “I’m l33t, Ask my mom if you don’t believe me!”

  34. gary brown Says:

    My first computer game? It was back in 1957 (!) and my dad, an engineer at Bell Labs, brought home a box that would play tic-tac-toe and BEAT YOU. Of course, for a REAL computer game it had to be empire on the PLATO educational computer system in the mid-70’s. It lives! See: http://cyber1.org.


  35. Benj Edwards Says:

    Looks like you definitely have us all beat there, Gary!

  36. freeferall Says:

    Pick-A-Dilly for the Apple II. My first console game was Adventure for the Atari 2600.