For today’s parent, raising kids in a world filled with hand-held electronic gadgets has meant dealing with the challenge of incorporating the cost of owning video game systems in the household budget. Kids and parents alike delight in spending hours carrying out military missions with their buddies, playing simulated sports against each other, or imagining themselves in fantasy realms where they possess magical powers.
One of the great things about the Internet is how many things that once required a shopping trip can now be duplicated in the comfort of one’s own home. Making things even more convenient is the power of search engines, which makes finding those free online pastimes even easier. Free online video games for kids are common nowadays, but it was not so long ago that competing in virtual contests of quick reflexes and hand-eye coordination came only to those who could rise to the challenge of a stiff price tag.
From the start, it’s taken quite a few gold pieces to afford the luxury of interactive fantasy. The very first home video game console was the Magnavox Odyssey, which used stick-on overlays for its pong-like gaming surfaces, and the figures looked like bouncing square lights. Its $75 price tag in 1972 works out to $391 today. Atari’s home version of Pong, released in time for Christmas, 1975, retailed for $99, approximately $401 in today’s economy.
We’ve grown accustomed to game consoles that use individual cartridges or discs to contain the data for different games, but that concept was novel when the Fairchild Video Entertainment System was released in 1976. The Channel F, as it became known, which also introduced the ‘hold’ function which was the first ‘pause’ button, set back families $170, which equates to $650 after inflation. Games for the system, encased in plastic cartridges tinted bright yellow, ran for $20 apiece, or $77 in today’s figures. In the wake of the Fairchild, competition was stiff–a little too stiff. Magnavox revamped the Odyssey. Coleco released the Telstar, a Pong game that sold for only $50, or $190 today. And Atari launched the now-legendary Video Computer System with a big push from Sears stores. There simply wasn’t enough business left over, and most systems failed in the market crash of 1977, with only Atari emerging as a profitable games maker.
Today’s parent has so many expenses to deal with involving their children–food, after-school activities, birthday parties, clothes–that dropping several hundred dollars on their entertainment may seem unjustifiable. Especially when so many of their interests have wound up piled in a closet, discarded in favour of the the latest new thing.
So for those families whose disposable income won’t allow for spending several hundred dollars on the new games system, take heart. If your kids really want to play some video games, get them hooked on the countless free flash video kids games that are available online. The play may be simpler, the fantasy more fleeting, but you don’t need to spend anything on games or controllers if you’ve already got a computer.
Whatever ends up being the right choice for your family, know that video game systems take a lot of initial investment for the hours of fun they provide.