Blast From the Past: An Overview of Computer Games from My Childhood

Being homeschooled, my childhood was a little different than most of my friends’.  Besides not having to get up early and go to class, we never had cable TV or video games of any type.  (Gasp!)  We definitely weren’t bored, though — when we weren’t doing schoolwork, we would watch PBS, or play outside, or read.  Or, we would get on our clunky old desktop and play computer games.

My boyfriend thinks I’m totally weird when I reminisce about the games we played.  And I get that — the games we played were either your typical homeschool-er educational games, or they were horribly dated even for the years in which we played them, and they  all had to be installed via the incredible CD-ROM.  Even then, it was kind of a weird, novelty thing.  No one else I knew growing up loved playing dorky computer games.  But me and my siblings did.  And it’s time for a flashback.

 

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Ah, Jump-Start.  I’m pretty sure we had every Jump-Start game there was.  But this is the one I remember.  If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you may know that American Girl’s Josefina was what really got me interested in learning Spanish.  Before Josefina, though, there was Jump-Start Spanish.  I learned a ton of vocabulary playing this thing.  When I started Spanish lessons in fourth grade after we began homeschooling, I was a little ahead because of all this vocabulary, and that gave me the feeling that I was good at Spanish, which in turn gave me the confidence to continue studying it.  Thanks, Jump-Start.  (And parental units.)

 

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I remember this being called Math Magician, or Math Mountain, or something like that.  This was one my mom kind of made us play, and we grumbled about it, but it really did make basic math concepts easier.  You play as a cat (I think?) who travels through different places, but to get to the next one you had to successfully solve the puzzles (ie, learn the concept).  There was basic addition and subtraction, and it went all the way through fractions and multiplication tables.  And when you got to the end, there was a little party because you finally made it to the top of the mountain!  Yay!  Math was my least favorite subject, so this really did make it better (although I never would’ve admitted it at the time.)

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This was literally one of my and my siblings’ favorite games.  In all the Carmen Sandiego games, you played as a spy trying to catch Carmen.  For this game in particular, you chased Carmen all the way from the Silk Road to Yuri Gargarin’s launch.  You met Leif Ericsson, Thomas Edison, men from ancient Japan, Native Americans before settlers came, and a ton of others I can’t remember, and you had to solve a problem for each one before you could travel ahead in time.  I think my sister and I probably played this through a good three or four times.  It was fabulous, and we both still occasionally quote the characters.  Also, while I did take an ancient history class in high school, a lot of what I remember came from this game, not our assigned reading.

 

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Oh my word — the Oregon Trail.  Possibly one of the worst, most basic computer games ever created, my siblings and I could not get enough.  We discovered this around the time we were reading the Little House on the Prairie series, so it was just perfect.  We played it a lot, and for a game so simple, it was such a challenge to arrive at our destination.  I only remembering getting there a handful of times.  As a kid, if you haven’t died of dysentery on the trail a million times, you haven’t lived.

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The infamous Barbie Secret Agent — this game had no educational value whatsoever.  The graphics were awful, and so was the dialogue.  It was hilarious to play.  I’m pretty sure the story line centered around someone stealing someone else’s fashion designs, and that just sets the tone for the whole game.  Barbie had the most diva secret agent skills ever — for instance, to sneak past a guard, you had to blow compact power into his face.  It made me and sister laugh every time.  In addition to all that, you could also choose between about 10 different outfits for Barbie (because she’s not Barbie without a fabulous wardrobe).  She had a different set of clothes for each country she had to go to.  For being such a frivolous game, the final level was really hard to beat — I remember that euphoric feeling when we finally achieved it.

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Nancy Drew games were the last few I played before I started growing out of computer games.  Honestly, they’re still kind of fun — my cousins play them at Christmas, and we often have to work together, because the puzzles really are difficult.  I read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys mysteries as a kid, so playing through these was so much fun.  And at the time, the graphics were good enough that the games could be absolutely terrifying.  It was thrilling and addictive, and I really think it boosts critical thinking.  These are very well done, and I definitely remember them fondly.

I’m sure we had a few more, but those are the ones I remember.  My parents didn’t like us to play for too long at one time, although my siblings and I would’ve played for hours straight.  But I don’t remember a ton of screen time.  Mostly, I remember crowding around the computer with my sister and brother and collaborating to figure out a puzzle, or laughing hysterically at terrible graphics and stories.  As we all got older, we quit playing together as much, because we all have different interests.  But these computer games fascinated all of us, so I think they kept us playing together for a little bit longer than we might have if we hadn’t had them.  I think we’ll be laughing at the memories of these forever.

Also, I just have to know — were we the dorkiest kids in the universe, or is there anyone out there that also remembers these??

And This One is About My Brother

I just wrote a post about my sister.  It was a long overdue post, and said things like how proud I am of her and how cool she is — things I should say more often.

But while I was writing it, I kept thinking about the fact that I have a brother, too, who is just as cool as my sister.  And really, instead of writing about him, I should just tell him randomly that I like him and think he’s a really cool person.  But since I’m an hour and a half away at school, and since I’ve already written a lot about my sister for everyone who happens to read this blog to see, it’s time to introduce you to my brother, too.

I was five when my brother was born.  The only thing I remember about his infancy was that I was days from starting kindergarten, and on the morning of his birth, when my grandmother asked me to “guess what I had new today,” I confidently told her, “A lunch box!”

I do remember him being a toddler, though.  I loved him when he was a toddler.  I thought he was cute.  But as he got older, I got more and more frustrated with him, because it seemed that he always wanted to be doing what my sister and I were doing.  I didn’t want to add a new companion to our playtime.  What 9-year-old kid wants to let her 4-year-old brother follow her around?  Maybe some do, but I didn’t.  And I didn’t know how to swallow my selfish desire for things not to change, and so I have to admit I could be pretty mean to my poor brother when he was little.  I wouldn’t let him play with me and my sister.  I would tell him he was annoying and a pest.  (All of which I regret deeply now.)

Looking back, I think part of this is because I do not have an innate need to have a lot of friends.  At this point in life, I have three-ish people I talk to on a regular basis, and that’s counting my sister and boyfriend.  It’s a part of my nature to not branch out if all my social needs are met, and when I was 9, 10, 11, all I needed was my sister.  I didn’t want to make the changes that a new sibling required.

There was also the age difference to think about.  Age matters a lot when you’re young, and with five years between us, we’ve always been at different stages of life.  When I started middle school, he was in second grade.  When I started high school, he was 9.  When I began college, he was barely 13.  I’ve always been focused on my own life, not really bothering to ask him how he was doing or what he was interested in, and not really knowing how.

My boyfriend has a theory that brothers just usually aren’t as close to their siblings as sisters are.  And maybe that’s true.  But I also know that my sister and brother seem to have a fairly close relationship.  Part of this is because they were the only kids at home after I left for school, and they’re also a bit closer in age.  But sometimes another part of me thinks the reason we are not closer is because I ruined our chances in childhood.  By telling him he was annoying all the time, did I push him away forever?

I seriously hope not.  Because now that we are both older, I really appreciate how he has grown as a person.  He’s very crafty with his hands, and built his own homemade forge in the backyard with which he makes his own knives and tools.  He likes to learn by watching YouTube and researching blacksmithing processes online.  He’s also into 4H and shoots skeet and other things.  I won’t even pretend to know what I’m talking about when it comes to shooting sports, but he got his own shotgun for Christmas and is getting better at whatever it is he’s doing with that.  

He’s also told me recently, offhandedly, that he’s been writing some.  He described a scene of a story he was typing out.  It was full of action, as I would have expected.  I don’t know whether this story was for school or enjoyment, but either way it made me happy to see him being creative with words.  My siblings and I are all so vastly different, but all of us enjoy writing.  And I love that.  

I worry sometimes if my brother knows that I love him and appreciate him as a person.  I try to let him know in little ways.  I’ve been known to leave notes in his room on occasion telling him that he’s “awesome sauce.”  Over Christmas break, to remind me to pick him up from school, he put a note in my car telling me to “pick up favorite brother!”, which I did every day.  We don’t chat a whole lot, but when we do it’s friendly and enjoyable.  In light of our hugely contrasting personalities, I think on the whole we have a good relationship.

Sibling relationships are weird.  Some siblings I know can’t stand each other, or are always in competition.  Some siblings can’t overcome their differences as children and distance themselves from their families.  And others stay friends even after they’ve all left their childhood home.

I honestly think that my siblings and I will be like that.  When all three of us are together, we have a great time.  They are the friends I never would have chosen if we weren’t related.  We three have discussed that before — if we all were to have met not as siblings, we would be friendly to each other, of course, but none of us would have bothered to get to know the others.  But I guess that’s what family is supposed to be.

I said this already in the post about my sister, but I wish everyone had siblings like mine.

Murphy 313

It’s a dusty, 12-foot-by-12-foot little room.  It’s got cockroaches in the summer and asbestos year round.  The tile is cold and grimy and so is the furniture.  Two windows that don’t open all the way and a door that likes to slam round it off.  It sounds disgusting because it is.  But it’s one of my favorite places in the world, and I’ll never see it again.

I grew so much in that nasty little dorm room.  I learned to be myself, to express my emotions, to love and to let myself be loved.  That room was filled with laughter and people at all times.  My roommate and I watched chick flicks and rearranged our furniture and attempted microwave cooking together in that room.  My other friends and I talked about faith and relationships and working out.  I hung out with people I barely knew in that room.  I did so many new, exciting things.

It also lived through some not-so-nice things, like the week he and I almost broke up.  Like the months my roommate realized she was in the wrong major and had no idea what to do with her life.  Like the times friends came in crying over boys and grades and life.

That room represents true friendship.  My first family-that-is-not-related.  It represents the struggle of learning to balance school with social life.  It represents learning to confront people.  It represents growth.

That room has seen many late nights.  Just one very memorable all-nighter (Truth or Dare is still a thing in college).  It’s seen many sleepovers with girls piled on the floor in sleeping bags and blankets.  Many deep discussions.  Many more very stupid discussions.  (Like what if toes were people?  Would they be little families?)

That room witnessed the first time someone asked me out.  It heard the many conversations about my misgivings and insecurities.  It saw my very first kiss.  It listened the first time he whispered, “I love you.”

Only two of us lived there, but numerous lives were squished into that room.  We supported each other, annoyed each other, and made each other laugh — really, really hard.  We created our own family for ourselves even though we came from many different backgrounds.  We were comfortable there in that room, surrounded by a place that was often just the opposite.  It was home.

That room is gone now, with its cozy nooks and rusty desks and slug-shaped paint splotch on the ceiling which I dubbed my pet, Fred.  Those cinderblocks, that knew many, many people intimately, are being replaced by safer drywall.  That floor, on which we spilled coffee and nail polish remover and remnants of our hearts, is now being re-tiled.  That bed, where I did homework and cried and held the boy I love, is being moved out in favor of a newer, streamlined model.

But I hold on to that room.  I became myself in that room.  Over the years, I’ll forget the details of how it looked and what all we did.  The colors will grow fuzzy and the windows murky.  I won’t recall what happened when someone asks, “Remember that time when…?”  But nothing will change the fact that I gave a part of myself to that room.  Nothing will change the fact that I added my life to those walls.

If those walls could talk, oh, the stories they would tell.

Murphy 313

In response to the Daily Post prompt “Places.”