The last three decades have given those that sat at rubber–keyed altar a great deal of fun as well as providing a line along which the development of video game and computer culture can be traced. Though it wasn’t necessarily intended to play host to games the success of ubiquity of Clive Sinclair’s computer was undoubtedly the fact that it was the first real computer to find its way into the home, and from there became the vessel for thousands of games.
The Internet first gained prominence as the Speccy was beeping its last and though micronets existed with BBS and forums fizzing with transatlantic conversation it was an expensive and complicated way to connect. It made sense that many of the first web users had their start with Sinclair’s computer and so even in 1995 there were Speccy favoured ports offering emulation, celebration and other stuff; a perfect haven on the porn tossed seas of the early Internet.
It is arguably the home computer with the most nostalgic resources online, with a more fervent fan base than even at its height. Martijn van der Heide’s World of Spectrum is perhaps the most comprehensive and busy emulation site on the internet and it’s a wonderful place to spend some time. The Speccy has its own culture and nostalgic esoteria of ‘R Tape Loading Errors’ and the mystical game of Mire Mare along with its heroes in Jet Set Willy and Month Mole.Playground battles were the precursor to forum flame wars and decades old affinity still holds today; it’s a sad thought, but probably a common fact, that your first loyalty was probably to a machine.
Many of the games journalists of today began in the scatty fanzines and magazines which began as price guides, reviewing games after school. It was irreverent spiky, juvenile but loving time and that spirit still hangs around today in the forums of fan sites with catchphrases and characters still relevant and recognisable to anyone who was there at the time. It must be an impenetrable world to those who have either have no interest or were too old or too young but for many Clive Sinclair’s black box is a time machine. Games have improved immeasurably since then. It is a rose-tinted world we enter when we look back, and yet there are many games worth revisiting.
Many of us have kids of our own and I know that except for curiosity sake they’ll never be interested in the humble Speccy as we were, and this is just as it should be. My boys don’t like Star Wars particularly but they are discovering their own Star Wars, they’ll have their own Spectrums, their own touchstones. Though emulation allows us to revisit the games and many of the magazines and assorted paraphernalia are available online it’s a necessary evil that the spirit of the past may be evoked but only for a fleeting moment.
Nostalgia and the internet are natural bedfellows with sites like TV Cream and TV Ark becoming virtual museums housing thousands of memories in video form; Youtube must be searched constantly for the opening titles of kids shows from twenty years ago. A quick hit of nostalgia is enough for most people, while others are looking forward. Thirty years on from the first tentative steps into BASIC nearly two hundred and fifty games have been released for the Spectrum in the last two years alone. Drawing a hastily formed parallel with film the Speccy can be considered as a pioneer of the silent age and with always hold a fascination for those willing to discover what came before.
Call of Duty and 3D Monster Chase may look worlds apart but, like Nathan Drake and Jet Set Willy, they have a common ancestry and as computers and consoles grew in power and popularity so did the ability to display the same actions. In the thirty years since the words ‘© 1982 Sinclair Research Ltd’ appeared on the family TV screen the world of gaming has grown from bedroom coders and schoolboy reviewers to a billion pound industry and in the UK at least there can be few working in the industry today who don’t remember the days of the Speccy.
It remains a trusty companion of days gone by when a few lines of text opened up worlds or fat pixels leaping and shooting captivated us and we felt like this brave new world was for us. The days when video games are considered as highly as movie and books (I’m not even going to mention the A word here) are a long way down the road, but they are there and on a good day can be glimpsed over the horizon. Anyone curious enough to turn back and search down the road will find a milestone bearing the legend “ZX Spectrum 1982- Press “c” to continue. Load”” Run!”