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Reflections: Growing Up in the 1970s

By Edited Oct 16, 2015 2 4
Atari console
Credit: Leigh Goessl

Image of Atari home game system taken at Smithsonian's American History Museum. Back in the day, this console was popular!

Growing up in the 1970s was great fun. Back in those days our parents let us play outside and only called us in for dinner in the evening, but after school hours — this time was ours. It was during these hours of the day the sky was the limit and the world was just waiting for us to explore.

This was the age where video games were barely in their infancy, Big Wheels were the rage and our imaginations went wild from the impact that movies like "Star Wars," "Jaws" and "Close Encounters" had on our lives.

The magnetism and possibilities of what else could be residing out in the universe was brought to us in brilliant color and fantastic technical effects on the "big screen" at the drive-in movie theatre were astonishing too. These images transferred into our play. We picked up our sticks in the yard and dueled with our brilliant light sabers like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker did — this was just the beginnings of our ideas and grand plans.

Electronic Toys Hit the Market

Electronic toys were slowly beginning to become a staple in the 1970s. During the holidays parents would take their kids over to Radio Shack or Consumers' and where they'd oooh and aaah over all the neat battery-operated toys. "Pong" was one of the earliest video games to hit the market.

Hard to imagine it now with the amazing technology we have today, but back then it was simply amazing to be able to transform a black and white television to become an interactive game. My siblings and I used to sit for hours mesmerized by this new toy. This was so different than the traditional board games we were used to playing! As the years went by, we eventually were introduced to the colorized Atari, and by the early 1980s video arcades had begun to crop up all over the place.

'Virtual' Reality in the 1970s

While video games were a lot of fun, our form of virtual reality was even better. Yes, before recent decades, the 1970s had virtual reality. My friends and I used to play these "live action" games, but they didn't have fancy names like you'd see on boxes or downloads these days.

However, they were created — we'd dubbed them with titles such as "cops and robbers" and "circus" or simply "an adventure". These virtual games weren't played on the TV or with a computer though. No, they were played in the backyard, the woods and all throughout the neighborhood.

In order to engage in this game, the strategy we had to use entailed climbing trees, rolling down "dangerous" cliffs of grassy earth, burrowing in dirt piles, swimming across murky waters or prancing around the yard doing cartwheels like the acrobats we were. All the action components required for today's video games were there, but it was even better because it was truly "live action." The thrill of catching your nemesis or performing a dangerous feat was both fantastic and tantalizing. Can you really experience that feeling in today's high-tech video games?

Girls playing
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

In the days of yesteryear, we used to explore the world around us on a daily basis.

Low-Tech Play

One of the best parts of these backyard games was there were no worries about running out of memory, losing your memory card, tripping over the cord and unplugging your game console (although I guess in the age of wireless, this is less of an issue now...) or seeing your game freeze at a pivotal moment. The biggest interruption we had to worry about was when our moms called us home to do our homework and eat dinner because the sun was beginning to set.

Another advantage was the next day we could pick up our weapons or batons and begin the game right where we left off. The memory was picture perfect, too. The biggest continuity issues were if someone couldn't participate because they had to stay home that day or if it was raining.

During those carefree days some of my best friends were "Holly Hobbie", "Raggedy Ann" and of course, "Charlie's Angels". I spent hours with them playing games, going camping and playing house. Speaking of, I wanted to marry Shaun Cassidy as I listened to him sing "Da Doo Run Run", or other days I was excitedly making my wedding plans to marry Bo Duke. This was before his vocal career took off, back when he lived down in Hazard County, Georgia. My best friend married Luke, and we had a double wedding.

Grease was the word and we boogied our way to having "Saturday Night Fever". "Jaws" was scary, my family used to travel to Jones Beach, Long Island, N.Y. all the time. For a time there I was afraid of the ocean, fearing some ominous music would start the moment I set foot on those sun streaked beaches.

Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

After 'Jaws' was released, many kids undoubtedly feared swimming in the ocean water.

A Time Gone By...

Life was, in some ways, simple compared to today with the technological advances and electronic gadgets. Back then we talked to our friends in person or on the phone, and didn't have "play dates" through instant messaging, text messaging or by using Facebook or other social media accounts.

Instagram and other Social Media Apps

What's funny is that in this day of technical advances, a few years back we bought our toddler a toy telephone; it suddenly dawned on me the toy phone had a rotary dial. I can't remember the last time I saw one of those. As I watched her hold it sideways up to her ear, turning the dial and clanging the bell it brought me to a startling realization.

It made me realize the more things change and progress technically, in many ways things remain exactly the same.



May 28, 2015 3:41pm
Nice article, Leigh. My kids grew up in the 70s. They also played outside a lot, which I don't think today's kids do enough of. I also remember paying $10 for a "state of the art" Pong game!
Jun 1, 2015 10:37am
Thank you Lesley. Today, it's hard to imagine any video console being $10, even with increased cost of living, wow.

I agree, more outdoor time is needed these days (and kids don't know what they are missing out on!)
May 28, 2015 5:37pm
OMG, this was such a good trip down memory lane. Radio Shack was all the rage and that Pong game was something I could barely get to play (my brothers were always on it).

That Atari game system looks a lot like my horrible alarm clock. It was the worst noise in the world to wake up to: a constant BAAAMP, BAAAMP, BAAAMP that made me want to throw it out the window.

Thumbs up, G+ing, Pinning, etc.
Jun 1, 2015 10:40am
I loved both Pong and Atari (but yeah, sound quality, not so great!) It was funny to me to see it in a museum now, doesn't feel like THAT long ago :)
Rose, thanks so much for commenting and sharing, I appreciate it.
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