What We Miss About Computer Gaming

written by Kris Caballero (February 27, 2016)

You likely remembered that time too: it was elementary school and you couldn't wait until classes were halfway over, and prior to lunch break, the class all went to the computer lab. Once inside, especially on a cozy rainy day, either you could listen to a story being read to you (an "audiobook" by today's terms), play a classic game of Pong, do classwork (hah!) or play some awesome computer games. Luck wasn't on everyone's side as everyone in my class did classwork eventually (we were grouped and were in rotation), but it did show itself when you got the chance to play computer games! Using the good ol' IBM computers, let's briefly talk about the days when playing games on computer was a whole different ball game.

As you know today, you simply download an app on your tablet and/or phone and there you go—no need to purchase any external hardware. If the game required a code to unlock, you'd either find it online (*ahem*) or purchase a code/key. If the games came on CD/DVD, you simply pop the game(s) in the drive, the CD/DVD will auto-install, follow the instructions and there you have it. Assuming your computer meets the game's system requirements, game installation has gotten super easy nowadays with a touch/click.

Having grown up during the days when Internet wasn't available in the household, lugging 90-pound CRT monitors and the loud, brewing sound of the CPU, running a game that didn't require installation but needed to be run off from its source was what I learned growing up (thanks Mom and Dad!). The games often sold in a format called floppy disks or diskettes. Whether you had toyed with the 8½", 5½" or the ever-common 3½" disks, these were the "cartridges" we need to play the games. Running games off of these were truly classic; I love (and actually miss) the sounds of the floppy disks flickering—the surreptitious sound similar to a "slurp" interspersed with a hard *click*.

Along with the NES and the Super Nintendo, I grew up with the IBM PC XT 5160, and also a Packard Bell 486 DX2. Running games required the following steps:

1. Pop the disk in,
2. On the C:\> command prompt, go to the B:\>, now became A:\>, drive to read the disk,
3. With the A:\> open, type whatever the manual says to run as long as the file ends in *.exe.
4. Wait patiently and enjoy!

Mind you, this was running games off the disk via the DOS command prompt. Kids who are well-versed into computer games today wouldn't understand a single word I just said, previous to this sentence. In layman's language, computer gaming took certain steps to targeting the software/game file inside the disk and 'prompting' the operating system to run it. Majority of us got used to this hassle (to put it kindly), but compared to today's high-speed processing, it can wear us out if we were to do it today. Nevertheless, it was the golden years of computer gaming.

On the Packard Bell, which now featured a GUI—graphical user interface, or "desktop"—running games got a little easier: pop the disk in, then double-click "File Manager." When you see the .exe file, double-click and there you go!

In my personal collection, I still have floppy disks originally purchased since the early nineties and they still run like a charm. Playing it today required a similar walkthrough. Instead, boot up the disk, take the .exe file off from the disk and run it using emulation software, namely DOSBox. Of course, it may look like you'd rather download the actual ROM, but compared to emulated video games, computer games running off emulation are more difficult to detect whether it's true emulation or pulled from the actual disk. In contrast, some software companies have relinquished their property rights making downloading the game ROMs completely okay. To add to that, computer games are the least likely to be preserved compared to video games as they continue to disappear as we speak.

No matter which computer you began gaming with, like DOS, Macintosh, Atari, Commodore or the Amiga, running the software never came easy. Gaming on computer was something either educational or a time of leisure, much in the same realm as video games (minus the educational part). That time, computer games were on floppy disks, and some on CD, and were there for a reason. Even as time goes by, the call to preserve these games is getting higher but the voices are not loud enough. For us retro gaming junkies, it's something to be mindful of—a "time machine" when games couldn't be easily found on consoles and must require a basic knowledge of computing. Having said that, the next time you shop online for some computer games on floppy disks, remember one thing: you're not only purchasing for the sole purpose of adding to your collection and/or to re-live the good days; You're purchasing an antique, and if by some chance you want to get rid of it down the line, there are a chunk full of computer historians and collectors who'll be happy to keep/purchase it from you without giving the disk a fate in going in the trash can. (Yeah, I sounded like some kind of rights activist saying that.)

If Life can't be lived easy, the same should go with computer gaming. I miss when computing was complicated and playing games on it were no exception. What do you think?

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