Reading 03: The History of... Personal Computing

Once again this week, I used Archive.org’s arcade room to explore an era of gaming. This time, I looked at MS-DOS and Apple II games.

First, I tried out The Oregon Trail for MS-DOS. I know this as a classic game that seems to have been just before my time. When I was much younger, before there was a computer in the house, I remember being at the library and seeing it as one of the preloaded games on the computers. I’be heard and could attribute classic phrases like “You have died of dysentary.” to the game. But until now, I’ve never actually played the game.

Beating the Oregon Trail

To be fair, I tried to rush through it relatively quickly in the hope that I could reach the end in one sitting. As a result, I only went hunting a few times, and kept up a grueling pace that killed off 45 of my group members. (Unfortunately, none of them died of dysentary.) I was still surprised by how enjoyable the game was. Because it was designed to be played on a computer, I didn’t have any issues with weird controllers. I found that the simplicity created a fun experience, while the balance of moving quickly and not dying kept the fun competitive.

MacOS 7

Next, I explored an emulator of a Macintosh running MacOS 7. It was super fascinating to see what an early computer’s OS and UI was like. As a current Mac user, it was interesting to find that there were some UI elements that felt very familiar (for example, thet Apple logo for the menu bar in the top left corner). At the same time that I saw familiar elements, it was also very clear that this was an operating system from a different era. While I could see myself playing a game like The Oregon Trail for an afternoon and enjoying myself, I would really struggle to use MacOS 7 for an extended period of time.

Cannon Fodder on the Macintosh

While I was using the emulator, I grabbed a friend to play Cannon Fodder. The gameplay was very straightforward: select your power and angle, then click fire. The game itself wouldn’t have felt out of place as a FundComp final project. The graphics were bare bones, and the cannon only moved in increments of 90 degrees visually. The most interesting part of the game I saw was the ‘About’ page. It listed an address, and said that the user could send in $5 to the address to receive updates on the game for the future. 1989 was so far away from today’s world of DLC and microtransactions.

Today, gaming on a personal computer is different that gaming on a video console in a few ways. PCs are often more portable and ubiquitous. As a result, it’s easier to have a machine that can be used for gaming and other things, as opposed to a machine just for gaming. This is the main difference for me. Personally, I find that gaming I do on a PC is either single player or online, while games I play on a seperate console are multi-player with other people sitting in the same room as me. The difference there really comes from the bigger screen with individual controls, as opposed to one monitor with one keyboard and one mouse. One of my favorite games to play recently is a blend of both: Jackbox Games are set up and displayed on a PC, but users are in control by logging into the game from their phone. It will be interesting to see how different hardware configurations and options influence gaming into the future.