Growing Up in the 1980s: Things My Kids Should Know About My Childhood (Part 4)

1980s Video Games, Computer Games, Board Games, and Playground Games

Previous posts in this series:

Part One—a brief discussion of my favorite 1980s movies, the Reagan presidency, and Michael Jackson

Part Two—a fun look back on my favorite ’80s television shows and books

Part Three—a trip into my old toy chest full of ’80s treasures and collectibles

This series is dedicated to my children, who are constantly told to limit their “screen time” in the hope that they will play outside or read a book (oh, fine, you can read an e-book on your screen). We also imagine that the lack of screens will force our kids to interact with other people “IRL”—an acronym that did not exist when I was a kid, because our options for non-real-life interaction with other people were rather limited. I don’t remember my parents or teachers ever nagging us about “too much screen time” in the 1980s, but my brother and I spent quite a lot of time staring at computer monitors and TV screens—“boob tubes.” We played old-fashioned board games in the ’80s, too, and when we went outside, our playgrounds included awesome contraptions that would later be deemed too dangerous for millenials. It’s time to conclude this series with a fond shout-out to all of my favorite ’80s games—video games, computer games, board games, and playground games.

Radio Shack TRS-80
My dad’s first personal computer, a Radio Shack (Tandy) TRS-80. Photo courtesy of Mike Oberg

My Favorite Video Games and Computer Games in the 1980s

Kids, when I was your age, video games did exist, but they looked nothing like the video games you have today. We had an Atari—I believe it was an Atari 2600—in the early ’80s, and I occasionally played games like Pong on my dad’s computer (pictured above). My favorite Atari games were Pac-Man, Frogger, and Donkey Kong. I never beat any of those games. Keep in mind, we couldn’t save our game progress. We had three lives, unless we were lucky enough to collect a 1-up, and that was it. After we died three times, we had to start over from the beginning. It was brutal. If my brother or I had to go somewhere while we were in the middle of a game and doing really well, we’d pause the game and turn off the TV, but leave the game console turned on so we could resume the game once we got home.

We got a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas 1987 or ’88, after a lot of begging. Every kid wanted an NES in the late ’80s. Ours was a bundle pack that came with two plug-in controllers and Super Mario Bros. The bundle pack may have also included a Zapper (gun) and Duck Hunt or Hogan’s Alley. I absolutely loved Super Mario Bros. and did eventually beat it, with and without warping.

Nothing was better than Super Mario Bros., in my opinion, but I also enjoyed these NES games: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out (I think I did beat Mike Tyson…once), Rad Racer, The Legend of Zelda, Kid Niki, Castlevania, Mega-Man, Tetris (which I also played on the PC), and Dr. Mario. My husband would add Excitebike to my list. (That’s my daughter pictured above with a generic, copycat NES controller, which my sweet husband purchased to go along with our RetroPie system. Now, if only we could get the generic old-school controller to actually work, so I’m no longer forced to play Dr. Mario with an Xbox controller…)

In an earlier article, I mentioned my favorite games that we played in the computer lab at my grade school: Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?  

One of the best games I played on my dad’s computer (not the Tandy pictured above, but a more powerful PC) in the late ’80s was King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella. My brother and I also thought all the Leisure Suit Larry games were hilarious. In those computer adventure games, we had to use the keyboard to type in our commands: “Open the door.” “Drink the medicine.” “Ride the horse.” “Buy beer.” Leisure Suit Larry would pee and fart on command, much to our delight. Princess Rosella was a bit more refined.

I spent hours and hours designing cities in SimCity on the computer. Technically, that would have been in the early ’90s, but I’ll mention it here since SimCity was released in 1989. I couldn’t get enough of that game. I played later versions of SimCity, too, but never enjoyed them as much as the original.


My Favorite Board Games in the 1980s

My favorite board games in the 1980s were classics like Candy Land, Clue, Monopoly, Battleship, and Connect Four. I always wanted Hungry Hungry Hippos, Mouse Trap, Operation, and Simon, but we never got them.  My brother and I loved our travel-size versions of Yahtzee and Guess Who? (a 1988 retro version of Guess Who? is now available! Sweet!). We got Jenga when it was still a new game being advertised on TV.

Trivial Pursuit was a hot, new board game in the ’80s. And Rubik’s Cubes were abundant. My dad was the only person in our household to ever solve a Rubik’s Cube without cheating.  


Outdoor Playtime in the 1980s

Kids, when I was your age, no one obsessed over the safety of the playground equipment at our public parks. We had tall, steep, fast, shiny metal slides—none of that wussy, plastic Little Tikes stuff. Rusty screws be damned! The metal would get really hot on sunny days, and it could burn our hands and knees and thighs, but we didn’t care—whee! We had teeter-totters that lifted us high off the ground, and squeaky, metal merry-go-rounds that we took turns spinning, until we threw up our Happy Meals.  

I can’t think of a single park in my town that still has a merry-go-round or teeter-totter. (Here’s a nice little blog on the subject: “The Death of the Playground Merry-Go-Round.”) The playground equipment of my childhood is obviously too dangerous—and awesome—for the children of today. Sorry, kids! I guess you’ll never know what you’re missing.

I shouldn’t tell you kids this, but, when I was your age, we rode our bikes without helmets, we rode skateboards without helmets or knee pads or elbow pads, and we jumped on big trampolines that didn’t have safety nets around them. At school during recess, we often played Red Rover, which my son tells me he’s never played, presumably because it’s too violent or dangerous. We also liked to play “Red Light, Green Light” and every kind of tag known to man. Freeze tag was my favorite. (Believe it or not, tag was banned in the upper grades at my kids’ grade school, because it sometimes led to—no, not tackling—incidental pushing.)  

I’m so glad I survived to have kids of my own.

To Zach and Audrey: I hope you guys have enjoyed learning about my childhood. I could tell you even more about the 1980s, but I think our family photo albums speak volumes. I won’t even try to explain the fashions or the hair…You can draw your own conclusions.


Sources: (embedded in article)


Related Articles by Maria Roth:

Growing Up in the 1980s…Part 1

Growing Up in the 1980s…Part 2

Growing Up in the 1980s…Part 3

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