Are you a member of the Atari generation in Costa Rica? Do you remember feeding pesetas or “coras” (anglicism for quarters) into video game machines at Mundo Tico in Cuesta de Moras, Galactica, or the other arcades at the Omni shopping center in downtown San Jose and Centro Colon? Did you catch the premiere of Star Wars at Cine Rex?
If your hair is turning gray, or you need reading glasses to scan this article, there’s a good chance that you were a young Tico or Tica who remembers the arrival of the Atari 2600 video game console in Costa Rica, during the administration of the late President Rodrigo Carazo Odio. The company responsible for introducing various generations of Ticos to the world of video games turned 40 years old today.
California-based Atari is a name that has become synonymous with nostalgia and video games. The company was formally incorporated on June 27th, 1972. Atari was the undisputed king of home video gaming around the world for a little over 10 years, until Japanese companies like Nintendo and Sega rose as formidable challengers.
The Atari Legacy in Costa Rica
For young Ticos and Ticas whose parents did not allow them to go to the arcades in San Jose for fear that they were gritty and unsafe places, the Atari consoles at home offered them a glimpse of a nascent industry that nowadays produces billions of dollars all over the world. Very few people in Costa Rica back then thought that Ticos would one day become seriously involved in the world of video games, but today we can clearly see Atari’s legacy as follows:
- The peaceful role of Costa Rica during the Cold War is the backdrop of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, a celebrated episode of a wildly popular video game franchise. The story takes place in 1974, two years after the birth of Atari.
- Video game development is a fledgling industry in Costa Rica, to wit: Tweet Land, Ivick Von Salza, Micromon, Pota Toss, to name a few.
- The high-end PC gaming Alienware call center in San Jose.
- The Xbox LIVE community in Costa Rica and its petition directed at Microsoft to formally include our nation as part of their gaming network’s countries.
It could also be argued that another aspect of the Atari legacy in Costa Rica is that it turned Ticos’ attention into tinkering with electronics and learning English. Most of the Atari game cartridges arriving in Costa Rica contained elaborate game manuals with stories, plots and instructions -all printed in English.
Further exposure to the anglophone world would become even more pronounced once the Atari generation tinkerers living in the Central Valley figured out ingenuous ways to point their TV antennas in the direction of Desamparados to catch the channel 19 signal of WGN in Chicago. The Costa Rica Star covered this cultural phenomenon of the 1980s in a previous article, “English Language Programming Snubbed by Costa Rica Cable TV Operators“:
“Tuning to channel 19 was a low-tech process that involved fashioning an antenna from broom sticks, chicken wire, aluminum foil, forks, etc. Channel 19 was probably responsible for boosting the interest of English among Generation X Ticos [who enjoyed] programming that included Bozo the Clown, GI Joe, the Transformers, Soul Train, and the Chicago Cubs with Ryan Sandberg on second base.”
Some Tico purists may think the 21st century Atari is merely a shadow of its former self, but today the company is celebrating its 40th anniversary by going back to its roots and sharing the glory of the Golden Age of Video Games. If you own an Apple iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch running iOS 3.0, you may want to download Atari’s Greatest Hits, which today includes 100 free classic games like Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command, Pong, and even Tempest with two-player option via Bluetooth: