The Pitfalls of Harry
One of my favorite Christmas presents growing up was the Atari 2600. I remember playing Combat! with my dad and my brother for hours that day. Pac-Man was another favorite. But, of course, we all have games that stand out as favorites, and 8 year old me was exceptionally fond of Pitfall.
Maybe it was the fact that Ron Ely was on every Sunday morning for Tarzan re-runs, dodging Styrofoam boulders and knifing crocs underwater. Maybe it was the fact that I had really enjoyed Raiders of the Lost Ark, even though I hid my eyes along with Marion. (You remember the scene.) But for whatever reason, Pitfall was, if I remember correctly, the first game that I imagined myself to be a part of.
Upon receiving the game, I first read the manual. This looked like it was going to be fun, and 8 year old me took note that I’d have to use the red button AND the joystick at the same time. They capitalized AND…holy shit, they were serious about this! Two things at once! And despite the giggles from those of you who grew up on Halo with your 47 buttons and 23 triggers, 8 year old me had one hell of a time hitting the button and stick together just so to land safely and not be eaten by crocs or stung by scorpions.
And look there, in the back of the manual…the designer of the game wanted to hear from ME! He wanted to know how Harry and I were “getting along!” The “tips from the creators” was a great move on the part of Activision, and really made you (if you were 8) feel special.
Soon, it was time to insert the cartridge into the 2600 and flick the switch to power on! In no time, I was running along with Pitfall Harry, questing through the jungle, jumping over logs and landing on the heads of crocodiles. If only Steve Irwin had known that standing on their eyeballs made them unable to bite you, he’d have missed out on some stitches in his early career.
The thrills! I was collecting treasures from the depths of the jungle! I kept track of them in an old notebook in case the 2600 got shut off or, more likely, commandeered by my brother to assuage his Pac Man Fever. I imagined what I’d buy with my silver bars and diamond rings and bags of money, usually more Star Wars toys. Alas, that money was merely make-believe, and vanished as soon as the Reset button was touched, and so Lobot had to wait on the K-mart shelf next to Dengar and IG-88.
The graphics of Pitfall were cutting edge for the Atari, as every obstacle was actually identifiable, unlike so many games of that age where your square avoided other squares until you could run into a differently colored square and put it in a rectangle. The logs looked almost like logs (or maybe rolling poo), the gators were identifiable (as lines and then greater than signs, alternately), the scorpions creepy (no, really…they were fucking creepy). Tar pits were black, the jungle canopy was a green blob perpetually anchored to the top of the screen, and magic numbers appeared amongst the leaves to show how much time remained, and what score you’d achieved.
Now that I think on it, it was a lot like doing ‘shrooms. Or so I’ve heard.
I never did achieve the coveted perfect score, but I jumped over so many logs and scorpions that my left thumb was noticeably more developed than my right. I’d played many video games, but Pitfall! still stands out in my mind as a simple classic.
What was your first favorite video game?