Monday, 14 September 2015
The console wars were not the first great geek civil war.
People talk about the great Console Wars Nintendo Versus Sega, Super Nintendo versus Megadrive (Genesis) but here in the UK there was a great nerd Civil war before most of us had really even woken up to the idea of cartridge based gaming, what was was this you ask? It was Spectrum versus Commodore. Wits, statistics and even fists were some times thrown trying to defend ones side, it was like politics before we were old enough to understand who Labour and the conservatives were, and if you carry on the analogy then that would mean that the BBC was the home computer version of the liberal democrats, third place without much of a chance or many people giving a toss really.
The BBC's biggest disadvantage as an item of coolness was the fact that it was in our classrooms. I can remember classes of thirty children all sat on some god awful itchy carpet our heads almost touching as we all leaned left and right to get a view of the screen. In truth I don't know why we bothered, most of the time all that was on the screen was a bunch of words that our teacher would proceed to read out to us anyway. It would always be something like this ''You are in a large dark cave, the air smells, the ground beneath your feet feels slimy, the witch is coming for you, what do you want to do.'' We would all then shout out stuff to the teacher who would tend to do what the majority said which would be something like ''go north'' and you would be met with either ''you can not go north'' ''you have gone north what now'' or every now and then someone would get the bright idea to shout something along the lines of ''turn around and fuck her to death''. The whole class would laugh even though only a certain percentage of us even had any idea what that meant, the bright spark would be sent out of the room along with anyone who couldn't stop themselves from laughing and the BBC would be turned of and we would go back to book learning. thinking back on it I really should have done that kind of thing less often. Even though the BBC had its own killer title that most of us would have pulled our own teeth out to play (Elite) most of us in my day and age didn't know about that as it wasn't the kind of thing schools would get in. I was lucky as my brother who is about 10 years older than me decided to buy a BBC and Elite and I got to play it, but the BBC was never my machine. Consequently as most of us had only seen text based titles in a school environment the BBC Micro had a real image problem as the sort of grey boring middle class home computer aimed at intellectuals and people who wanted to learn and what we really wanted to do was have lots of fun.
In nearly all my friends either bedrooms or backroom's there was a Commodore 64 or a 48k Spectrum. So was I team Commodore or team Clive Sinclair? I was Team Spectrum and you know why? Basically because at the age of two or so I was slapped in front of my brothers with bright characters flashing, encouraged to slap on the buttons. Was this because my parents were awful terrible people looking to have some form of computerised overlord babysit for them? No. The reason was much more mundane and well nice than this. My parents basically figured that the way things were going with technology one day if you couldn't use a computer you would basically be unemployable. They figured if I grew up with computers being an every day thing I had seen and touched more or less from the very moment my memories started then I would be ahead of the pack in some way. They wanted the best for me, they didn't slap me in front of my brothers games and let me shoot things just to keep me quiet no they went out of there way and spent a healthy amount on educational software the one I remember the most stared the Mr Men, it tried to teach you basic things like how to count and how to recognise colours. Eventually when my brothers who were both older than me moved on to other things the spectrum became mine and it was my primary games machine. I also through basically being the biggest gamer in the family also inherited the family Atari 2600 my first cart based machine. While the Atari might have been instant though the spectrum had much more advanced games, they were also much easier to find and cheaper to buy. I was basically lovingly indoctrinated in to the family of the Sinclair Spectrum. I liked it because it was made by a British man who seemed like a bit of a cool mad scientist, I liked it because not only did I get all my brothers games but our local news agent and even our local boots the chemist sold games very cheaply for it, there was also the fact that my very very closest friend had one and this tied us even deeper together as friends with a common cause but the main reason I liked it was because it was all I had, all I could afford and I just plain did not want to believe that something out there I couldn't have was or could be better than what was sat in my bedroom on my glorious black and white 8 inch TV.
I was very young when I had the spectrum, I didn't have the skills at that point and time to sit back and look at the big picture or even to have a rational argument, my fist arguments about the machine were in infant school age 5 after all, an infant school in a small mining town where the language was as dark as the pits. So when a 5 year old boy would tell me that I was scum because I had a Spectrum which was rubbish compared to his Commodore my only real recourse of action was to call him a poof or a spastic with no knowledge of what these words meant only knowing I had heard older people say them and that they were in some way offensive.The playground was often a battlefield with a Spectrum lad kicking a commodore lover and then the resulting retaliation, this was long before comprehensive and the thankfully far more peaceful console wars, back in those days hearts were broken and lunch boxes shattered over kids heads and all in the name of one computer or another which is now painfully underpowered compared to the most basic of phones now days and yet in amongst all of the violence and the arguments there was always a bleeping screaming cassette tape playing computer to go home to.