The Polygon has published a great retrospective on the arcade classic Missile Command and it’s creator Dave Thurer – a game inspired by, and the inspiration for, nightmares of nuclear armageddon.
While I had experienced the arcade version of Missile Command (1980) at the local movie theater, my definitive version was the Atari 2600 port. It was the first cartridge I purchased with my own money – a big deal for a kid who hadn’t reached double digits yet.
I spent hours upon hours playing it, taking down the incoming missiles as they approached faster and faster. While there were limitations compared to the original – only one missile base, fewer enemy types, no trackball – it is one of the more faithful 2600 arcade ports.
At this point in my life, I was still trying to convince my family to partake in my burgeoning video game hobby. My brother was too young, and my mom had absolutely no interest. Though my dad would play with me occasionally – he enjoyed Galaga, and join in for a round of Combat with me from time to time.
I remember watching him play Missile Command in our living room, but after a while he said he was done. While I don’t remember his exact words, he conveyed a sense of unease with the game’s premise – probably for the same reason the game haunted the dreams of its creator. While I may have known that “Russia” was something to be feared, the concept of nuclear war was not something I was capable of grasping at my young age.
For me it was just a fun, albeit tense, video game. For baby boomers who grew up under the specter of mutually assured destruction, Missile Command was less a game and more a bad dream come to life.