Nowadays, it is hard to believe that some time ago computers needed a dedicated tape cassette to run. When I am trying to explaining this to my kid, the first question it asks goes like this: A tape cassette? What is that? At that time, your personal status in school was determined by a computer model you owned. Some students were proud of their Commodore 64, but the elite had the most precious gem one could imagine – Amiga 500, the device which resembled a thick keyboard integrated with a tube-shaped monitor and a floppy-disk drive. ZX Spectrum was slowly becoming a bygone miracle.
Those times has passed, but the nostalgia remained. Currently, you can get lost in a myriad of programs and pick and choose between modern equipment. Top-level graphics transforms processors into small heaters and attention to detail just makes one feel dizzy. Old games, however, were giving us as much joy as modern products. Commands entered into DOS trained our memory and helped to understand a logical computer structure. So, should we come back to those past solutions? No, we obviously shouldn’t. But we can still look back and recollect.
A mysterious package arrives at our door. The household’s heart is beating fast. There hasn’t been anything like this before. What is it for, actually? Rustle of paper, a moment of uncertainty and finally – yes, we have it. An enigmatic device made of a CRT monitor integrated with a typewriter. A TV set and a typewriter in one device. A blinking cursor on the screen. Everyone is leaning over on the edge of their seats, but the only thing they can see on a phosphor-covered greenish screen is reflection of their faces. Suddenly – a loud „bip”! wakes everybody up from the torpor. The screen is showing puzzling character stings… and no one knows that a new era has just begun.
Back then, personal computers were mainly used for fun by today’s thirty-year-olds. Once we were children we were not actually reflecting about their „serious” applications. Computer games, previously reserved to large game machines standing in patisseries, small shops and coffeehouses, had arrived to our houses. Navigation in many of these games was reduced to text commands entered with a keyboard. But old computers, aside from many imperfections, had their advantages. In comparison with modern equipment, designed for rapid wear, they were relatively failure-free. They came with a simple casing, so it was very easy to fix them and replace damaged components. Software operation, although much more difficult than today, did not require constant updates. Computers were much more demanding, but this feature helped them preserve the irresistible charm of calculative machines which they in essence are. Not without reason, it is believed that the best IT specialists on the market belong to the 8-bit generation. It was they who were present at the birth of computers, it was they who were assembling their machines with burning cheeks, and it was they who understand digital nature of these devices like no one else.
The Golden Years of Games
Simpler graphics translated into much cruder reality depiction. It would seem that this was an overt flaw of computers produced in the 80’s and 90’s. Distinct, visible pixels, boxy characters and squawking sounds generated by a small speaker (a piece of metal built into a casing)… such memories bring a smile of pity to our faces. But still, violence in those games was almost reduced to zero, or it had a purely symbolic character. Games in the 80’s were supposed to shock, scare and bewitch a player. They also helped us to develop, almost to such extent as modern games, our dexterity, ability to use logic, and reflex. Unlike modern games, they also had a positive effect on our imagination. Rectangles pretended ships, crosses pretended planes, and two parallel lines looked exactly like a motorway. Even with the most detailed graphic many events wouldn’t be possible without our imagination running, because only text messages were informing about them…
Back then, we would spend many hours playing in Super Mario Bros, a game which won the hearts of young people after the Nintendo video game console had been released on the market. Mario, the title character, was crisscrossing the Mushroom Kingdom, a mysterious land with dangers looming at every corner. The game’s main mission was to kill the villain – Bowser and save the princess named Toadstool. Until this day Super Mario Bros is believed to be one of the most commercially successful games in history.
Currently, almost all games hand everything „on a plate”. Animated demo tells the beginnings of our hero’s story, illustrates the game and reveals the end of the plot. One must admit that all of this is striking and offers the highest technical quality. But virtual combats are more and more brutal, bloody, literal, filled with aggression and competition. They land far from noble games composed of pixelated squares and rectangles.
Windows – Operation System for Preschoolers?
Modern computer confronts users with much less demanding challenges that machines in the 80’s. Comfort seems to be the highest priority. Some people dare to claim that Windows is… too simple and insults users’ intelligence. Ultimately, all of it is about pointing, dragging and dropping… so it is reduced to mechanisms that can be mastered by an average six-year-old. Can you actually understand a computer when you use it like this? As a result, a huge gap emerges between IT guys, people wise to technology, and normal users. In the case of ZX Spectrum and Atari computers – every user, to some extent, had to be… an IT specialist who analyze access paths and enters chains of „magic” commands which weren’t that easy to memorize.
For some time, we can notice a wave of discouraged voices of those who are fed up with overloaded systems offering thousands of functions that a client will never use. All of them are intended for a mass client, that is for no one. A computer system has become a strident marketing tool, applications swamp us with auto-generated messages prompting us to purchase their new versions, with update reminders and standard ads. Small wonder that it creates the feelings of longing for simplicity and nostalgia for times when a computer was truly personal.
Triumphant 8-bit Come Back
Contrary to appearances, the 8-bit world has not been forgotten. Many graphic apps come with an image stylization option and emphasize their „pixelated” aura. A load of teenage gadgets or clothes is decorated with roughly-hewn images of old games characters. Shape of modern joysticks and consoles refers to the style developed in the 80’s and in the 90’s. The club music also follows the trend for „8-bit” computer generated sounds. More and more people outwardly say about primacy of analogue solutions over digital technology. Shops offer vintage equipment for playing music recorded on vinyl plates, we can buy hugely expensive tube amplifiers and synthesizers perfectly imitating sounds generated by computers from the 80’s. Classical pixel theme also appears in street art, in the form of wall drawings or stickers. „8-bit” times became the legend which is now being rediscovered by teenagers.