Most of my early childhood memories are filled with vivid flashes of new and unusual experiences, like the time I climbed out of my crib and landed flat on my arse. Just a few years later, I remember using my first Windows PC that solidified the trajectory of the rest of my life.
It was a big, clunky IBM ValuePoint with its ‘90s beige colour and dual floppy disk drives. I have more memories of using that computer than I do with any other computer I’ve owned since, although I don’t remember the exact specs of our IBM PC. Come to think of it, my dad probably never told me, because what four-year-old would understand the specifics of PC components? This was a time when processor speeds were still measured in MHz, RAM was measured in MBs, and it would be another eight years before the first consumer discrete graphics card, Nvidia’s GeForce 256, was released. I didn’t care about CPU frequencies yet. I just wanted to plan virtual birthday parties for Mickey Mouse and his friends.
The hardware was, in a way, simpler than today’s computers, but given I could barely write my name at the time, I needed some help remembering what commands to type in so I could load Windows or a DOS game. My dad wrote the commands down on a piece of paper and taped it to the desk next to the PC, and I eventually memorized them. By four, I could power the computer and and off, load floppy disks into the drives, and type in a command to run different games — without supervision. My dad often came home from work only to find me using his computer in my parents’ bedroom.
But that was my dad’s goal with us kids: to get us comfortable using computers as soon as possible. Working in the tech industry, he knew everyone would rely on computers in the future, at home and at work, so there was no question about getting a computer for the house. I learned how to read from games like Mickey Mouse Follow The Reader, which allowed me to select different objects for Mickey to interact with or places for him to travel to. (I loved Mickey Mouse. A lot.) I learned how to type from using DOS commands and playing games like Kid’s Typing, which featured, to my delight, a little ghost named Spooky who wanted you to help him haunt the house with the keyboard representing a high-tech Ouija board.
To my knowledge (and memory), I was the only kid in preschool who had a computer in her house, which was both a good and bad thing. On one hand, my preschool teachers were impressed by how well I could read and write. On the other hand, my dad let me play a few age-inappropriate games like Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. Let’s just say my teachers did not appreciate my Monday morning show ‘n tell about Larry getting beat up by dudes with baseball bats in a dark alleyway.
Eventually, my dad got a new Gateway PC with Windows 95, and I inherited the IBM. My brother was still a baby, and I had moved into the now-former guest room of our three-bed, two-bath single story house in the middle of a quiet suburb. But when the IBM officially became mine, I didn’t have a proper desk for it. The IBM was too massive to fit on my writing desk. My old, plastic Playskool toddler table, complete with tiny plastic blue chairs, became its new home — and my first PC gaming set up.
By the time the IBM was moved into my room, I had amassed a collection of educational and recreational games. (My mum insisted on the educational ones.) My dad created a special DOS menu that made it a litter easier to access those games without typing in a bunch of code, although I still had to input a command to get to the menu after booting up the PC. I thought the menu was the coolest thing ever, and it made the IBM feel new all over again.
The menu was blue text on a yellow background bordered with the same blue. GAMES was bolded at the top, and there was a list of 10 games beneath that included Lemmings, Arkanoid, Mixed-Up Fairy Tales, Maths Blaster!, Treasure MathStorm!, Treasure Cove!, and others I had played when I was younger. But those were games like Mickey’s ABC’s A Day At The Fair and me, a sophisticated 8-year-old, was not interested in “baby games” anymore. I had learned all I could from those educational games, so it got to the point where I was only playing the non-educational games on the IBM.
But then Duke Nukem 3D came out several months later and changed everything. My dad bought it for his PC, but of course I ended up playing it. All the time. It was the first 3D first-person shooter I had ever played and I was hooked. Wow! Computers could do so many new things now! My mum (and dad, too) tried to steer me away from the virtual violence, so they bought me games like Catz 1 and Clueless. But I wanted the bloody, “shoot ‘em up” games, despite what they and developers like Girl Games Inc. said at the time.
Windows 95 and my dad’s new PC built on my love for computers and games that the IBM started, and eventually that computer became mine, which meant it was time to say goodbye to the first PC I ever had — a goodbye that lasted a few years. My first PC lived out its final days in the back of my mum’s classroom, next to a much older Apple II, and it was the newest piece of technology on the entire campus. (My mum taught Special Education for 30 years, and the school district was underfunded compared to neighbouring ones at the time.) If her students finished their work early, they could play the same games I grew up with, or practice their maths and reading skills.
Her students only had access to computers and video games at school, so according to my mum, they loved my old IBM. They learned how to type with it. How to read. How to write. How to input DOS commands and eject floppy disks. They learned how to be comfortable with computers and technology, even if it was older technology by that point. One of my mum’s students who was always the first one to finish his work just so he could be the first one to use it during free time went on to work in the tech industry. That IBM brought a bunch of kids joy until the day it stopped turning on, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to finally say goodbye to the computer that was the first to foster all of our interests in computers, games, and technology.