The ‘Sinclair Years’ began for me with the ZX81, continued with the ZX Spectrum 48k and ended with ZX Spectrum 128. Each machine was more capable than the last, and each used the same shoebox cassette tape player to load its games.
Games flourished under the home computer boom. Anyone with the ability to program a computer could make a game, start a company and sell games to a willing and voracious public. There were many more games than you could ever hope to play to completion.
I still played them all, at least once.
I’d borrow games from my mates and buy a C90 cassette tape (it could hold 90 minutes of audio or a few dozen games). At first, I’d load the borrowed game (a wait of 4 or 5 minutes for a 48k game) and play it. If it caught my attention, I’d put the two tapes into my dad’s twin-deck stereo and make a copy. Later, I would skip the loading stage entirely. I’d copy everything I borrowed and give back the ‘originals’ the next day.
Each game, while loading, held the promise of something new, something great, something different. The anticipation was always there, even though the game didn’t always deliver on that promise. But, when it did, it was nothing short of incredible. Few games managed it, and fewer still had it from start to finish. Some captured it for the first level or the first hour of gameplay but couldn’t sustain it.
I became a collector of games. I stored my game collection in a case full of C90 cassette tapes and played only a few to the end. I searched for that world-view altering moment within the gameplay experience I had never seen before.
In games, that moment is subjective. It’s different for every gamer. It doesn’t matter what type or genre of game you enjoy playing. Each game appeals to a range of players, and each player within that range can find their unique moment that bonds them to the game. Sometimes the moment is obvious and predictable, but no less brilliant for that. Sometimes the moment is a strange alchemy mixing the game player, the game maker, the hardware and the implementation of the game’s audio, graphics and gameplay into something more than the sum of its parts.
All for that singular moment: to experience the feeling of having just played something exceptional. Of having played a good game.
When a game gives up that moment to you, you’ll know it. And remember.