Play Stuff Blog

Taking Video Games Outdoors  

As legendary game designers David Crane, Steven Cartright, and Garry Kitchen spoke at the recent Classic Gaming Expo, I couldn’t help but reminisce about some of my favorite Activision titles from the early 80s. As the first third-party developer in the video game industry, Activision released fascinating titles, such as Barnstorming, Keystone Kapers, and Kaboom!, for the Atari VCS. Crane’s classic platformer Pitfall! came to dominate my play experiences—both on the screen and off.

Pitfall image from Game Faqs

Pitfall image from GameFAQs

Our building efforts began in the spring when melted snow provided readymade water features. We placed stumps in them to simulate the crocodiles and used the woody vines growing on the adjacent trees in often ill-fated attempts to swing over them. We bought plastic snakes from Woolworth’s, made stick-art scorpions, and coated a few stray bricks with yellow paint, all to simulate the perils and treasures in the game. Just as with the 8-bit video games we were playing at the time, we needed to use our imaginations.

Playing our outdoor adaptation of the game was a messy endeavor. The muddy 50-meter course alone would have been challenging, by our incorporating one of the greatest game elements of Pitfall!, the dreaded countdown clock, we made it all the more chaotic. In the video game, players not only battle the jungle environment but also a 20-minute time limit. On the Pitfall Harry trail our time limit was two minutes, down and back, no missed or tripped-upon hazards. As a player ran the course, those not actively participating in the game ran alongside to judge performance, keep track of time, and, of course, taunt the player in hopes they would trip, fall, or somehow fail to finish.

Pitfall from Wikipedia

Pitfall from Wikipedia

Coming home after a day of playing in the woods guaranteed the same response from my mother every time. David Crane’s adventurer proved the first and only video game character my mother ever knew by name, “You’re a mess! Have you been playing Pitfall Harry again?”

We played this game in the woods for a number of years, making yearly upgrades that consisted mostly of larger, harder obstacles. Looking back, I have the fondest memories of both playing Pitfall Harry on the trail and playing Pitfall! on the red shag carpet in my living room. Are there any characters you morphed into outside of the screen?