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Did you play the Magnavox Odyssey in the 1970s?

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I'm teaching a university seminar on computer archaeology/history, and I and my students have spent a few weeks studying the 1972 Magnavox Odyssey. We've looked at contemporary advertisements, watched commercials, played (and dismantled) the hardware, and even made new 'software' for the system. However, what's most difficult to find are accounts of how players reacted to the Odyssey when it was still new. Despite their importance, these stories don't often get written into history.

 

So, if you played the Odyssey when it was new (or know someone who did), I'd love to ask you a few questions. Even if your recollection is vague or spotty or you were very young, I'd like to get a better picture of how Odyssey fit into peoples' lives. Here's a few things I'd like to know.

 

+ Why did you (or your parents) buy the Odyssey?

+ How did you hear about Odyssey?

+ Where did you buy it?

+ How old were you at the time?

+ What games did you play? Which were the most interesting? Which weren't?

+ How long did you play Odyssey? Days, months, years?

+ Who in your family played?

+ Where did you play (living room, basement, friends' house, etc.)?

+ Did you play videogames after Odyssey? If so, which ones?

+ What seemed novel or interesting about the Odyssey? Did it remind you of other media or did it seem completely new?

+ Did you own other accessories or games beyond the basic set?

+ How did Odyssey compare to other games you played (e.g., sports, board games, electronic handheld games, etc.)?

+ Was anything about Odyssey difficult to learn or understand?

 

Feel free to answer here or contact me privately. Thanks for your help!

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+ Why did you (or your parents) buy the Odyssey?



We didn't buy it, though i begged my parents to do so. They wouldn't, in part, because the salesman said it would only work on Magnavox televisions and we didn't have one.



+ How did you hear about Odyssey?



Saw it at the Magnavox store at the Fremont Hub in Fremont, CA. The mall is still there, but the store is obviously long gone.



+ How old were you at the time?



7



+ What games did you play? Which were the most interesting? Which weren't?



Table Tennis and Haunted House



+ How long did you play Odyssey? Days, months, years?



For a few hours while my parents shopped for a new television.



+ Who in your family played?



Me and my 4 year old sister.



+ Where did you play (living room, basement, friends' house, etc.)?



Only at the Magnavox store.



+ Did you play videogames after Odyssey? If so, which ones?



I never stopped. Coleco Telstar through Sony PSVR.



+ What seemed novel or interesting about the Odyssey? Did it remind you of other media or did it seem completely new?



Completely novel - games on the television!



+ Did you own other accessories or games beyond the basic set?



No.



+ How did Odyssey compare to other games you played (e.g., sports, board games, electronic handheld games, etc.)?



Started a lifelong addiction to video gaming, but I've spent the last 10 years also playing board games.



+ Was anything about Odyssey difficult to learn or understand?



No. Easy for a 7 year old to figure out.


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Thanks pongstroid, that's really helpful! So was the Odyssey set up with overlays in the store, and you were able to switch them out? Or did the Magnavox rep demo them for you?

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I played the Odyssey as a young boy in the early 1970's My mother bought it for my father for some unknown reason..I think she was always looking for some gadget to buy him for his birthday.

We were amazed as a family to play games on the T.V., as primitive as it was. I recall that it ran on batteries, no electricity. It was either "C" or "D" batteries, I don't recall. I just remember going through a lot of batteries very quickly in the first month that we had the Odyssey.

 

As for the games, Pong was OK. I remember my father yelling at me to use "English" to put a spin on the Pong ball. There was also a haunted house game that I remember was kind of fun. All of the games were basically the same, with an overlay that stuck to the TV. I remember inviting my friends over to play, but we got sick of it pretty quick. It got kind of boring really fast for us. The novelty wore off quickly. My mother and father would show their friends the Odyssey, but after playing Pong the rest of the games were kind of blah.

 

We put it away, and then for some reason, more overlays came in the mail. I don't know if my parents ordered them or what. I don't even remember what new games came, but we dug out the Odyssey, played it for a month, and then it was put away again.

 

Years later, in the late 1980's, my mother got a phone call from a game collector. He said that he found our names going through receipts at the TV store where my mother bought the Odyssey. He wanted to know if we still had it...but as all mother's do with boy's collectibles, it was long thrown away. Which was a shame, because I know we had the original box, all of the cartridges , and overlays in great condition.

 

The Odyssey was the first game system we owned. We didn't get another one until the 2600, in about 1981 after playing it over at my Uncle's house. I then went on and bought the Colecovision, and then the NES, and so on, right up to the Wii U.

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Okay, this is weird. Today, I was thinking about the Odyssey that I had when I was a kid. I was thinking of coming here and asking people about it and I did a quick search and found this thread.

 

We had the Odyssey 400.

 

+ Why did you (or your parents) buy the Odyssey? I think we got it for Christmas one year. Maybe we got it because we bought a Magnavox TV? I'll let you know if my family remembers any more details.

+ How did you hear about Odyssey? It showed up at my house. :)

+ Where did you buy it? I asked, I'll let you know if I get an answer

+ How old were you at the time? It came out when I was 9, so it would have been after that.

+ What games did you play? Which were the most interesting? Which weren't? We only had the one with 3 or 4 built-in pong-type games. I played them all as much as I could.

+ How long did you play Odyssey? Days, months, years? I played it a lot until we got a 2600, then it got shoved under the TV stand. We found it years later when we moved. I think we sold it at a Garage sale.

+ Who in your family played? My sister doesn't remember it at all. So, I think it was mostly just me and my Dad. I did get a reply form my Mom and she said we passed it around a lot at first, but I was the one that kept playing it the longest. It was the main reason we eventually got a 2600. (Which I do not recall my sister ever playing)

+ Where did you play (living room, basement, friends' house, etc.)? Family room.

+ Did you play videogames after Odyssey? If so, which ones? Oh yeah. I had 40+ 2600 games, and I spent a ton of money in the arcade. I got a paper route so I could buy more games and play more arcade games. I got an Atari 800 and an Atari 130XE and an Atari 1040 ST mostly to play games. I was saving to buy a Jaguar, but then Atari collapsed... (I had an Atari Lynx in there somewhere too.)

+ What seemed novel or interesting about the Odyssey? Did it remind you of other media or did it seem completely new? I was fascinated by it. To be able to control something on the screen. I had Hotwheels cars with the spinning "car wash" like box that made them keep going over and over, I got Sizzler (rechargable hot wheels) and I had slot and slotless race cars and later remote control cars. I loved being able to control things.

+ Did you own other accessories or games beyond the basic set? The one we had, there wasn't anything that I was aware of to add.

+ How did Odyssey compare to other games you played (e.g., sports, board games, electronic handheld games, etc.)? I had a lot of toys growing up. Most of them, I have vague memories of. This is the most vivid memory I have from my childhood. When I tried to look this game up and I saw the squared out version of the original, I was like, that wasn't it. But, when I saw the white box with rounded corners and the three knobs on each side, I was like, "That's it!"

+ Was anything about Odyssey difficult to learn or understand? No. It was awesome the first time I played with it!

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+ Why did you (or your parents) buy the Odyssey?
Found cheap at a yard sale. A system and about 20 games.
+ How did you hear about Odyssey?
Gaming magazine from 80s covering the early consoles. A lot were inaccurate or sloppy but it told me of Microvision, Odyssey^2, and Vectrex
+ Where did you buy it?
Garage sale, I believe somewhere near Birch Run, MI
+ How old were you at the time?
Not 20 yet
+ What games did you play? Which were the most interesting? Which weren't?
None; Quest for the Ring (lucky I had a complete set), and a lot weren't interesting.
+ How long did you play Odyssey? Days, months, years?
A few weeks
+ Who in your family played?
No one
+ Where did you play (living room, basement, friends' house, etc.)?
Bedroom
+ Did you play videogames after Odyssey? If so, which ones?
Be easier to ask which I didn't play. Neo Geo, PS3, PS4, XBox 360, XBox One, and Nintendo Switch.
+ What seemed novel or interesting about the Odyssey? Did it remind you of other media or did it seem completely new?
The built in keyboard was new to me but it was awful because of the membrane design, no feedback and sometimes unreliable hit detection when I type.
+ Did you own other accessories or games beyond the basic set?
Quest for the Ring might count as accessory because of game pieces and keyboard overlay.
+ How did Odyssey compare to other games you played (e.g., sports, board games, electronic handheld games, etc.)?
Very simple and primitive. I thought 2600 could do better overall
+ Was anything about Odyssey difficult to learn or understand?
The first one gave me trouble. When I first got the set, the system had the weird RF connector and no switch box. Lucky a few weeks later I found another system with a few more games, the second one had detatchable joystick and a standard RCA plug for RF cable that I could use with Atari switch box.

 

I do bring my lot out once in awhile just to play but I may sell the next time I dig the lot out. O2 does have its unique quirk and fun but I didn't grow up with the system and I felt other systems were better.

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Odyssey Questionaire

- Why did you (or your parents) buy the Odyssey?
Christmas gift for our family (3 of us at the time), but primarily for me.
- How did you hear about Odyssey?
Being pretty young, I had no knowledge of it before we got it. I did have an affinity for arcade games, which is probably why my parents thought I would appreciate it.
- Where did you buy it?
Not totally sure, but… I have heard they were only available through Magnavox dealers, and when I asked my dad about it—I had to prompt him with that answer—he said it did seem likely that that was where they bought it.
- How old were you at the time?
I think I was 3.
- What games did you play? Which were the most interesting? Which weren't?
The pong game was definitely the big attraction, but I was super-intrigued by the overlays. I remember a Haunted House overlay that very much interested me…but I don’t remember much about playing the game itself.
As I believe most of the games required two players, it didn’t get a ton of use. My parents would play with me on occasion.
- How long did you play Odyssey? Days, months, years?
We got a Coleco Telstar (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telstar_(game_console)) in 1976, which spelled the end of our Odyssey use. So I’ll say we played it for three-something years.
- Who in your family played?
Me, Dad, Mom, and I remember playing with my grandparents on occasion.
- Where did you play (living room, basement, friends' house, etc.)?
Basement
- Did you play videogames after Odyssey? If so, which ones?
Coleco Telstar (as mentioned above), then the Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade (Atari VCS) starting in 1977. Then on to an Atari 800 in 1980, ColecoVision in 82(?), then many, many other systems.
- What seemed novel or interesting about the Odyssey? Did it remind you of other media or did it seem completely new?
It felt like the arcade to me. But it was certainly novel to play it at home.
- Did you own other accessories or games beyond the basic set?
I remember lots of overlays, and cards that went with I think the Haunted House game. One card said “Tiffany Lamp”. That is burned in my brain for no reason at all.
- How did Odyssey compare to other games you played (e.g., sports, board games, electronic handheld games, etc.)?
Generally superior to electronic handheld games, though those were often geared towards single-player play, which was nice. (The Odyssey wasn’t as I recall.)
- Was anything about Odyssey difficult to learn or understand?
That the game didn’t enforce its own rules made it hard for a young kid like me to play. For instance, one very unusual feature was that you could apply “english” to the ball in Table Tennis to make the ball curve. But there was a rule: you could only apply english on your own side of the court. Yet the game didn’t enforce the rule! You could apply english anytime you wanted, even when the ball was an inch from hitting the opposing player’s paddle, making it basically impossible for them to hit it. I remember I kept applying english in an unfair manner against my grandfather, and he kept complaining, saying “you can’t do that…”…and it made me cry. :(

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