When I was growing up, channel 56 in Boston ran a contest between afternoon cartoons wherein one lucky viewer could play an on-the-air video game over the phone for cash and prizes. Cross-hairs were broadcast on the screen overlaying a field of stars. Flying saucers would speed by the screen, and when one of these spaceships was in the cross-hairs, the player would shout “Pow!” over the phone, causing a laser to fire.
If timed properly, the flying saucer would be destroyed and the player would earn points.
I’m not sure how this worked, but my guess is that a human being was probably sitting in the studio, finger on the trigger of a joystick’s fire button, reacting to the player’s command to fire.
At the time, I thought it was the coolest thing ever invented, but looking back on it now, I can’t imagine how or why this captured my attention. Video games existed at the time. They were Atari-based systems and hardly advanced in terms of graphics or game play, but they were definitely better than shouting “Pow” into a telephone.
I also couldn’t figure out why kids were just shouting obscenities and manifestos rather than “Pow!” The game needed to be played live in order for the player to interact with the screen, so there was no delay between words and broadcast. When I started calling channel 56 in hopes of getting on air, I had not intention of actually playing the game. After shouting “Pow!” a few times, I had planned on making fun of my teachers, shouting their names and several pre-planned insults into the phone.
Perhaps not every child was as subversive as me at the time.
I’ve wondered for years if I was the only person alive who remembered this silly little game, but it turns out that it has it’s own Wikipedia page. The game was called TV Powww. It was syndicated throughout the world and hosted by a man named Cap’n Mitch who inexplicably wore a sea captain’s uniform and constantly reminded the audience that TV Powww was “the only game in town.”
Which is odd since it wasn’t true. The Atari 2600 had already landed in the homes of millions of children, and arcades were popping up everywhere.
I even found video of the actual game play.
Just like I remembered it.
No wonder why I wanted to hack the game to insult my teachers.
Elysha once told me that her father watched a television show in his youth in which viewers were sent a clear, plastic film through the mail to overlay the television screen so that they could draw on the screen with markers based upon events happening onscreen.
This also sounds crazy to me. Televisions back in the 1950’s and 1960’s were far ore expensive than today. Most homes owned just one TV. Even with the plastic film, I can’t imagine why anyone would allow their child to write on the screen.
Even today, I wouldn’t allow my kids within ten feet of the television with a marker.
Both of these odd, little games were like precursors to the personal computer and eventually the internet. Human beings were trying to find ways to make the screen that we watched less passive and more interactive for the viewer.
Telling the world (or at least the world that was watching Star Blazers on channel 56 after school) that my gym teacher was a jerk and my science teacher was an idiot would’ve been a lot more interactive.