x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A grown man’s lament for loss of video-game pioneer Atari

The Life: There is little to console writer Sam Grobart about the rise and fall of Atari, which filed for bankruptcy in January.

Space Invaders, hot stuff circa 1978. David Greedy / Getty Images / AFP
Space Invaders, hot stuff circa 1978. David Greedy / Getty Images / AFP

Oh, Atari. Atari! Lodestar of my youth. If you're too young to remember Atari's heyday, back in the early 1980s, then you didn't know that Atari was the jam.

Let me put it to you this way - in 1975, two nerds named Steve went to work for Atari to develop a game called Breakout. They went on to start Apple.

Back when Silicon Valley was basically Hewlett-Packard and Halted Specialties, Atari was like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Magical products would come from there, captivating the attention of every six to 16-year-old in North America. If you were really down with the action coming out of Sunnyvale, you sent a dollar to Atari to join the Atari Club. (Of course I did this.) Membership did indeed have its privileges: you got a copy of Atari Ageevery two months and you could - if your parents allowed - spend a week at an Atari computer camp.

My parents never let me go. I'm still a little sore about that.

For all its power and influence, Atari's run would prove to be tragically short. The company was at the centre of what Wikipedia grandly calls the North American videogame crash of 1983, when a glut of consoles from competitors and mediocre games from everyone contributed to a rapid decline in sales. Atari itself was later sold, gutted and passed around from owner to owner in years hence.

But in those heady early days, Atari could do no wrong. As a testament to its impact, try watching Blade Runner. Shot in 1982 and set in 2019, the sci-fi classic has plenty of scenes in which Atari's logo features prominently. Back then, if you were thinking about the future, it was impossible to imagine it without Atari.

* Bloomberg Businessweek