My life with computers started like this:

It all began in 1981 when I first saw my cousin in Beirut, Lebanon, playing PacMan on the Atari 2600. The colors, the sounds, and the animation fascinated me.

Tarek next to Atari game at National Video Game Museum

I was six or seven when my passion started taking shape.

We traveled to Nicosia, Cyprus, that year to avoid the start of the 1982 Lebanese Civil War and Israeli invasion. My dad bought me the Atari 2600, which came with the game Combat. Level 10 of the game was my favorite. It lets two tanks in a two-player mode shoot bullets that bounce off the walls, just like the game Pong. Hiding behind one trench and locking in the enemy was my strategy to win against my friends each time. Ironically, the war game timed perfectly with the civil war in Lebanon. As a young boy, I felt emotionally stressed by the news, newspapers, and magazines my late journalist-dad would bring home daily. The game made me feel like a soldier wanting to defend my country against the enemies. My obsession with the game Combat later moved to Pacman and Defender. Those three games were the games that I played.

Atari games that weighs gold to a young kid at the same

As the home computer industry rapidly exploded worldwide, computer clubs were popping up in various cities, including where we lived in Nicosia, Cyprus. One summer day, we were at a swimming pool at Cleopatra Hotel in Nicosia when my parents found me a computer club.

Cleopatra Hotel in Nicosia Cyprus.

Unfortunately, the club was closing because it was the last day of summer. They were selling off the computers at a discounted price, and my father bought me one. It was a beautiful machine connected to the TV and would kick off my journey with computers from that day on - the Commodore Vic 20.

Tarek and Vic20

My parents also hired a tutor for my sister and me. His name was Chris. I am trying to remember his last name. Chris and my dad took me to a computer store where we bought various educational games for the Vic 20: Chemistry, Physics, Math, etc. I recall that each game was expensive - around 20 pounds each. They would come in tapes along with a catalog each. At the time, the Commodore 64 was taking over the Vic 20. I want to remember if we got the educational stuff because there was nothing else. Either way, I was not never interested in using them. It is also likely because I was just a kid! I did not have a single game for the Vic20 at the time. The newsstands only had magazines for the Commodore 64, BBC Micro, and others, along with program listings, but nothing specific for the Vic 20. One exception was finding two program listings for a Merry Xmas Jingle Bells song and another for a game called Rhino 6. I would later spend hours copying the code one character at a time from the magazine and onto the computer. Chris also taught me the BASIC commands PRINT, INPUT, VAR, and GOTO, and then I learned POKE and PEEK just for changing colors. But that was about it. I recall Chris showing me a Commodore 128 and how he can magically switch into a Commodore 64 mode by typing the command “GO 64.”

Tarek and C64

The Commodore 64 … let’s talk about it …. By 1984 I have gone to know about other home computers, the Sinclair ZX81, ZX Spectrum, the BBC Micro, and various other 8-bit computers. But the Commodore 64 was more appealing to me mainly because of how the game advertisements looked cool in the computer magazines, especially in Computer Gazette magazine and Commodore User.

To my despair, I could not convince my parents to get me a Commodore 64. At the time, they had more financial issues to worry about, along with the situation in Lebanon. At the same time, I ran out of anything to do with the Commodore Vic 20 and the Atari 2600. It’s not that I perfected the machines. I had no resources to leverage. If I knew then like I know now about the essential books like the Programmers Reference Guide, things could have been different. I felt that I was the only one in the world still with a Vic 20 when everyone else had something better, such as my neighbor friend who showed me the text adventure game Hobbit on his Spectrum Sinclair computer. Hobbit running on his Spectrum Sinclair.

After returning to Lebanon in 1985, I tried again to convince my parents to get me a Commodore 64. It never worked. My frustration
grew so much that I became obsessed with the Commodore 64 I built dreams around ultimately having one. The cost of the computer was $240, a number that I will never forget. My parents could not differentiate why a Commodore 64 is different from a Vic-20 other than playing games. They didn’t get it. I did. It is not about games nor about how the computer looks. It is everything about the computer! The Computer!
As an 11-year-old boy, the Commodore 64 was the only thing I ever wanted at that time. So what I did is that I started buying
computer magazines from the pocket money that I saved, and I also began buying games for the Commodore 64 even though I didn’t have one. The colorful game tape covers, and the beautiful art in the magazines became my salvation rather than the computer itself. It took me another two years until I finally got the Commodore 64. Thanks to my late uncle, who offered to give me money to buy one.

Tarek and Zork

After getting the Commodore 64, I found my passion in adventure games: Zork and Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy
But the pleasure of finally getting the Commodore lived short and was replaced with a newfound passion for using computers with either a CP/M operating system, an MS-DOS 2-11 operating system, a Microsoft Windows 3.0, and the Macintosh Mac in the period between 1990 and 1992. That would be the topic of a later story.