Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson: Thirtysomething years later, my Atari has returned

Like a lot of folks my age, I grew up playing video games on an Atari 2600. Unlike a lot of folks my age, I pretty much quit playing video games when the other systems came out and had controllers with 37 buttons.

I readily admit that from Super Mario to Just Dance 3 to Call of Bloody Modern Zombie Warfare 12, the graphics have gotten so much better that it's hard to tell the video games from movies these days.

So, I understand why kids - and a few kids my age - want to play these new Xboxes, Playstations and such. Problem is I can't operate the darn controllers.

I grew up with Atari's one joystick and one red button. I'm a simple guy with apparently a simple mind. I can't play video games that require two thumbs. My left thumb is for video game playing. My right thumb is for hitchhiking and rating movies.

But this Christmas, my family received what I considered the Holy Grail (with all due respect to Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun) of Christmas gifts. We got a throwback Atari system preloaded with more than 70 old Atari games and two controllers with just a joystick and red fire button.

This cost Santa about $34. In 1981, the such a system and 70-plus games would have cost more than $2000. Even Little Donnie Trump down Keene Avenue back home could not have enjoyed such riches when we were growing up back home in Possum Holler. Yet, I, thirtysomething years later, have such a treasure sitting just about 12 feet from me this very second.

At any point, I can literally walk to the other side of the room, cut on this massive collection of Atari greats and defend Earth from evil Space Invaders, blast up some Asteroids or do something called Yars Revenge, a game I saved up to buy 30 years ago and now have no idea what it's about or how to play.

I showed some of the games to my 12-year-old son, who reacted the way the world's most renowned art critic would if you showed him your favorite piece of art and it involved black velvet and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

"That's it?"

Yep, that's it. Turns out I had some rose-colored glasses when it came to the Atari, for it may not even rise to the level of a Red Ryder BB gun. Still, I intend to save the Earth from Space Invaders when I get the time.

It also makes me wonder what else from my childhood has been magnified in my mind over the years. Maybe Oakley's Gulley wasn't a thousand feet deep. Maybe the water from my Grandma's garden hose didn't really taste better than any water in the world. Maybe little Paula down the street really wasn't madly in love with me.

Nah, who am I kidding? Oakley's Gulley was definitely a thousand feet - judging by how long it took me to get to the bottom after Paula said "Get lost, you creep!" and shoved me into it. And that water from Grandma's water hose sure tasted good when I finally clawed my way out.

--Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent whose "Best of Chris Johnson" is now available for Kindle. Follow him at