Great moments in PC gaming: Playing on the first mass-market PCs in the 1980s

(Image credit: Commodore)

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

I'm a member of the generation some folks have taken to calling "Xennials", the tiny but distinct generation sandwiched between Millennials and Generation X. My favorite description of us is that we're the generation who came of age with the internet, but are just old enough to remember functioning in a world without it. I can even pinpoint when I first had a sense that I'd been born around the cusp of a great shift—the night my parents came home with a brand-new Commodore 64.

It seemed magical and extraordinary, particularly for a kid learning how to type on his mother's fascinating but loud and messy electric typewriter. It wasn't just that I could type a button and make a letter appear on the display—technically a typewriter can do that. No, it was more that it let me erase those mistakes with the press of a button instead of having to retype the whole page or risk ruining my clothes and typewriter ribbon (and getting a little high) with a bottle of white-out. Ours was still largely a world of paper, pens, and pencils. I'm not sure anyone born afterward can fully comprehend how vast that leap felt even at my age. 

Of course, I was mainly interested in the games. Not long after we set up the machine, Impossible Mission surprised me with the sound of the bad guy yelling, "Destroy him, my robots!" I spent a stupid amount of time with Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and I had a possibly unwarranted affection for the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom tie-in that dropped in 1985. It was, I think, the first time I realized that games could let me "be" a character I loved rather than merely having to imagine it. Sorry, Reading Rainbow. 

But most magical of all, our Commodore 64 and the Apple IIs at school combined work and play into one convenient package. Prior to the C64, my experience with "computers" had mainly been limited to consoles like the Atari 2600, which didn't do much else besides play games. Earlier PCs seemed unfathomably expensive—almost the stuff of science fiction. But by the time I finished elementary school, I could finish writing a paper on my class's sole computer and then sneak in a few rounds of Choplifter before the teacher forced me to make way for another student. As I matured, the combination left me dreaming of the possibilities of such all-in-one systems and impatient for their realization. Probably more so even than our teenage contemporaries, my generation saw computers point toward an easier way.

This is not to say that little Leif Johnson in his Coke-bottle glasses was some kind of visionary. William Shatner was already all over TV and print ads a bit before this time, asking why people would buy a console instead of a whole computer like the Commodore VIC-20. Well, obviously, Shat, the answer is that Legend of Zelda isn't on my Commodore, and the C64's joysticks felt like garbage after spending a few minutes with the NES's gamepad.

Still, in those silly ads you could catch the first traces of the hardcore enthusiasm for PC gaming that continues to this day. For young people like me, gaming was the gateway to grasping the PC's potential, and it made us more eager to embrace it than productivity apps alone ever would have. And all these years later, I'm still impatient for the wonders that will come next.