Reason to Upgrade – PC with MS-DOS and CGA Graphics: So Many Keys, So Few Colors


Gotta start somewhere

I’m not sure I knew what a computer was when I saw one awkwardly sitting on a card table in our family room. My dad was tinkering with it. Turning it on, turning it off, turning it back on. I saw him clicking on a lot of buttons as letters showed up on the screen. I thought he was talking to the computer by spelling things out on the monitor. MS-DOS does not make a strong first impression on a 6 year-old, but wait a minute, it plays games? You have my attention, tiny television.

Reason to Upgrade looks back at the reasons behind our major gaming purchases. From expensive adult next-gen upgrades to the platform decisions our parents made for us each one has a story full of joy and/or regret.

My first PC was a daunting machine especially since I had just learned how to read. I think I would have stayed curious about it as long as my dad stayed interested, too. It seemed important. But none of that mattered after he put in Dig Dug for the first time. It looked glorious on our EGA monitor. 4 whole colors! As with just about any video game for me at that age, I was entranced. I loved tricking the enemies and crushing them with rocks, not to mention the obvious draw of literally blowing them up.

Dig Dug

Let the mind games begin.

The best part of Dig Dug on my PC was that I could play it without asking for help. All I had to do was make sure the computer was off, put in the disk, turn the computer on, and the PC would boot up the game directly from the disk. No complicated prompts. Just sweet, sweet gaming.

I felt empowered. It was time to go on a real adventure, a Castle Adventure. I don’t think I ever knew how in over my head I was with this game. I remember learning that you could type things into the game, but I couldn’t figure out how to make anything substantial happen. I just enjoyed the game as a giant maze that I could sprint through and occasionally stab weird looking enemies.

Castle Adventure

I got this.

I got a big kick out of figuring out how to navigate the obtuse stairs represented by D’s and U’s. Everything in the game was represented by text characters (apparently from Code Page 437). My imagination had no idea. I was in the most realistic castle in existence, and it had no end. I wonder how much progress I actually made in the game because I’m sure it wasn’t much for as many months as I played it.

My imagination couldn’t completely prevent all of amounts of frustration from games I didn’t understand. Sometimes you just have to win at something and my competition of choice was Microsoft Decathlon. 10 Olympic class track and field events that accidently taught me physics, multiple national anthems, and a disdain for computer controlled opponents. I would enter events with multiple characters to try to take over the award’s podium. Decathlon sticks with me because it turns out that the combination of holding down keys and tapping others as fast as possible resulted in the origins of my carpal tunnel.

Looking back at these games it’s curious as to why I gravitated to the PC at all considering they were in direct competition with my established Atari 2600 library. The PC games alone weren’t a great step forward over what I was already playing, but they were very different and I think that was the hook. I felt like I was playing grown up games. They were more complicated games that made me feel a real sense of growth and accomplishment. Just interacting with the PC itself was also a puzzle for me. A puzzle I wanted to solve to impress my parents. I knew my dad was just learning how to use the PC, too, so it was the first time I felt on equal ground with him and I wanted to “get better at the computer” than him.

Or maybe the end game was just to make it easier for me to write about video games.