Electronic Handheld Games

1977 vintage handheld football game

We Boomers had great imaginations. How great? Well, in the mid-to-late 70’s, we would get extremely excited over little red LED’s flashing on a tiny screen. These LED’s, as they lit and darkened to the motions of our thumbs on buttons, would cause cheering, cursing, and occasionally even the tossing of the game that provided all of this “action” (hopefully against a shock-absorbing surface).

Electronic games began with Mattel’s Auto Race in 1974. It was the first handheld game to contain no gears, relays, or any other moving parts. Everything ran with diodes, transistors, integrated circuits, and of course a tiny screen with “cars” represented by tiny red LED’s. And believe you me, any kid whose parents shelled out the big bucks for it was popular, at least while he had fresh batteries.

Football seemed to be a natural fit for handhelds, and accounted for many of their incarnations. The pictured game was Mattel Electronics Football, circa 1977.

But memory tests soon got red hot a little later in the decade. In 1978, Merlin and Simon appeared, both challenging you to repeat patterns of lights by punching the appropriate buttons. And as some of us enter the twilight years, take it from me: you NEED to have your memory challenged on a daily basis! Use it or lose it.

The games quickly got more sophisticated. By 1980, you could get bowling, hockey, baseball, chess (THAT was cool!), and Missile Attack. I was always vaguely disturbed by playing Missile Attack, as the cities full of innocent people that you were striving so hard to protect were ultimately doomed, it was just a matter of when.

In the early 80’s, LCD screens began to appear, and realism took a quantum leap. After all, those tiny LED’s required a lot of help from your imagination to become basketball players, bowling balls, or nuclear ICBM’s.

In 2000, Mattel re-released their original 1977 football game. It was a hit, in large part from younger Boomers trying to recapture the excitement of seeing those little LED’s light up and being transformed them into hulking football players.

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