Life Lessons from Pong

1970’s era family enjoying some quality time in an official advertisement photograph

Having been born in 1971, I was in a somewhat unique position to witness the birth of home video games. I was also lucky enough to have come from a family that was well off enough to afford the earliest of consoles. Like clockwork, just about every birthday and Christmas brought a pirate’s booty of new games and often, new consoles as they were introduced.

The Pong box that was under the Christmas wrapping paper for so many kids in 1975

My earliest gaming experience came with the advent of “Pong”. Atari founder Nolan Bushnell created Pong and it was released as a home console in 1975. It had earlier success as an arcade machine in bowling alleys and roller rinks and is considered among the games that launched the video game industry. In my case, this home version was hooked up to a smallish, square RCA black and white television. The game used two controllers with rotary knobs that the player used to move a line up and down in order to bounce a square pixel of a ball back to your opponent on the other side of the screen.

By today’s standards, it is admittedly simple and boring, but to me it opened up a whole new world of discovery and possibilities. It simply blew my mind. My brother and I would play for hours. My best friend down the street would come over to play whenever he could. Sure, I played board games and cards with the family, but that was the physical world. Would that ever hold a candle to playing in a virtual environment? Since that first gaming moment, I have always preferred digital games. Even now as a 49 year old, I play Call of Duty on the Xbox with my kids when I can and get in the doghouse with the wife far too often for playing Need for Speed or Golf Clash on my phone. There are, of course, exceptions. We still play physical Monopoly, Sorry, and Cribbage but the experience is completely different and lacks the adrenaline rush I crave. That’s right. I became a junkie at five years old.

As I reflect back on those sepia tinted memories I see more than nostalgia. I see a boy that learned basic fairness, how to accept loss, and perhaps most importantly how to get along with others. Okay, so maybe I didn’t learn time management — video games are terrible for that, but I do have a better perspective on video games than some. That perspective has made me a mellow dad. One that understands that my kids today have different social lives than we did. I may have had my brother or friend in the same room with me, but it was still inherently a virtual interaction. Today my boys are playing online with other kids, some they know, some they don’t. Just as my world became digital, so has theirs — and despite the occasional crass or vulgar online player, they are learning the same lessons about fairness, loss, and getting along with others that I did. Of course it involves time limits and some frank discussions, but video games can be a healthy and enlightening activity. Pong. Who would have thought a pixel could change your life.

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Sanderson Tattersall

Sanderson Tattersall

Sanderson is a father, an educator, and a part time writer based in Connecticut.