In the mid 2000s, my friend Wendy and I ventured out of town to check out an independent video game store. Looking for gift ideas for her friend, we came across two Atari 2600 consoles and a stash of games. She took the original wood-panel 2600 and half of the games, and I took the Atari 2600 Jr. and the other set of games. Since then, I’ve slowly added games to my collection as I’d stumble across games at conventions. While I still don’t consider myself to be a collector, my small Atari set is the one thing I’m collecting primarily for the sake of possessing these items rather than playing them.
I have very few memories of playing and enjoying the Atari as a toddler, but there are a handful of things I remember. I do remember playing Defender. That might actually be my oldest memory of playing video games of any sort. I remember playing some sort of casino game where I didn’t understand any of the rules.
Many of these memories are hazy at best, but I fondly remember Combat. This head-to-head game of battling tanks was – and still is – quite enjoyable. There are a lot of different modes to keep you busy, so it holds up better than most Atari games.
In the grand scheme of things though, I have little first-hand nostalgia for it. While the Atari 2600 is technically my introduction to gaming, it fell off my radar as soon as I played Super Mario Bros. on the NES.
My lack of nostalgia for it is actually part of why I enjoy collecting vintage Atari stuff. Having grown up with the medium since the NES, the Atari 2600 represents a generation of gaming that I missed. With each game I play, it feels like I’m gradually filling in that knowledge gap.
Most of the time, the games are pretty rough. Even the most renown games of the era haven’t aged particularly well, unlike some of the timeless gems that graced the Nintendo platforms. Still, there are a few gems and oddities that I adore. My current favourite game is Berzerk, which is a fast-paced shooter that’s sort of like a precursor to Robotron or Smash TV. It’s actually still quite fun to play and worth checking out if you happen to stumble on an Atari 2600.
Of course, we also can’t forget E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Still considered by many to be the worst video game of all-time, it was one of the games in the initial set I bought with my friend. Having played it a few times, it is at the very least the worst video game I’ve ever played.
The other reason why I collect Atari stuff is that it’s much cheaper to build a decent Atari stash these days relative to the retro gaming market as a whole. Unlike Nintendo or Super Nintendo items, which have gradually risen in value as time progresses, Atari products are largely dirt cheap to buy. The demand is simply not there, which allows me to get games that I think are a cool slice of history for pretty cheap. If I remember correctly, my copy of E.T. only cost me $5 at the time, and I don’t think I’ve spent any more than $25 on an Atari game.
My Atari collection will not sell for nearly as much as a decent Super NES collection, but that’s not what I’m in it for. I enjoy collecting Atari stuff for the sake of owning a neat slice of pre-historic video gaming history. It won’t ever be a focus of mine, but I’ll certainly scoop up more cool 2600 titles as I come across them.