First encounters of the videogame kind

I was eight years old and I recall needing to find my dad. I wasn’t lost or being stalked, or anything modern and paranoid like that, for when you lived on a 1970s military base in UN-patrolled Cyprus, being out unsupervised from noon til night (fighting wars with sticks and stones) was what kids did. On this particular occasion though I needed to find my father, probably so he could eat whatever dinner my mother had made. As missions went, compared to assaulting storm drains with your mates, it wasn’t the most exciting.

I’d looked everywhere I could think of except the local bar. Even though it was out of bounds and therefore threatening, I knew my dad helped run things there, so with shadows lengthening and few options for a successful search left, I sheepishly wandered in. There I was confronted, not by a bartender eager to haul me out by my ear (still a thing back then), but by a growling machine monolith. I’ll never forget it’s green alien glow curling through the cigarette smoke, less still its analogue heartbeat. It was like coming face-to-thigh with Maximilian from The Black Hole (which like my first videogame console, a Binatone TV Master Mk IV, was still a year away from making a lasting impression).

I didn’t play the machine. I didn’t know it could be played. I had no money on me and wouldn’t have known where to put it if I had, or that was what powered the thing – since it couldn’t have just been electricity. (The Force maybe?) I just watched from a safe distance, the screen flicking from lists of secret alien codes to footage of a prior invasion from space.

Then I ran outside and into the failing light, as much in fear of being discovered by an adult as from the machine-beast in the corner. Naturally I was to find my dad at home, probably annoyed at me for being out late and delaying his meal. I  said nothing of the encounter lest I gave away where I’d been, but I like to think that night is when I had my first electric dream and the seeds of a lifelong interest in videogames was sown. Then again, perhaps it was more a recurring nightmare now I think back on it.