Presumably you’ve heard of a digital dark age?
The idea is that as new technology advances old data becomes unreadable, the result being that when viewed from the future our past begins to look like a dark age purely because no records from the period exist.
Today it finally occurred to me that I’ve already been DDA’d.
That is the box which contains all of my earliest childhood gaming memories. See I have always lived with a computer. The same year I was born (1985) my father bought a brand new IBM compatible personal computer. No joke I learnt my ABCs from this thing because I had a game for that. It wasn’t a 486, a 386 or even a 286, it was an IMB XT, the XT presumably stands for extreme. It had two floppy 5 1/4 inch drives but no hard disk, so to get anything to work you needed to insert the DOS boot disk to load up the operating system and in the other drive insert the disk for the program you actually wanted to run. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know what an operating system was. These things have become coded into my soul.
Some games, like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game, had up to four disks. Which meant hot swapping them mid-game. One title whose name alludes me at the moment had seven disks. Figuring out which disks to keep in at any one moment became a weird metagame. So perhaps excuse me when I snort at people who claim that learning to use a controller is a significant barrier to enjoying videogames. If four year old me could get that machine to play games I think you can learn how to use a second thumb stick to control the camera.
I had a mountain of games for it because in those days most PC games were homebrewed and shared freely. Also my father was a cheap skate and not above a bit of piracy, actually a lot of piracy. And because my father was a cheap skate it would be almost ten years before we got a new computer, a 486 with CD-ROM, it was like something from the future. While other kids had their master systems, megadrives, NESs and SNESs I was still playing the old beige warhorse. Even when we got the new computer I still played the old one because the new computer was the family computer and the old one became mine. I spent about sixteen years of my life playing those games till the machine finally died.
But here’s the point, I don’t think I can ever play these games again. 5 1/4 inch floppy disks have been obsolete for years, so I’m never going to be able to get the data back off them. Some of the more popular games, like Space Quest and Alley Cat are still available albeit through grey markets but most of the bedroom programmer crafted games are irreplaceable.
Look at the above disk. Best of PC Public Domain Software Volume: 448. That disk had eight games on it, and there are at least four hundred and forty seven more volumes. That’s a staggering amount of games. But where did they come from? Are these disks the remnants of an ancient Australian games industry? If I went to the address would I still find Micro Shack? I looked it up on Google Street View, it’s now a swanky bar called the Lotus Lounge. What a horribly generic name for a night club, I mean sure Micro Shack is a generic name for a software distributor but in the eighties no one expected them to have style. Should I go there tomorrow just to go there? Or would that be too soul crushingly depressing?
I’d ask my father about these games but he’s passed on, as far as things I wish I’d asked him it seems trivial but I remembered to ask the important ones so this is all I’ve got left. I’d ask my mother but she won’t know anything about them. I’ve been searching in vain for a game I used to play called Red Baron but all I can find is this old Sierra one. Right now all I want to do is spin in a circle with my finger glued to the fire button while flinging the occasional bomb into enemy aircraft. There are so many other parts of my childhood I can relieve any time I want but that experience will forever be closed off from me.
And I have the disk sitting right here.