My Life Through Video games: Pitfall!

Chpater 2 — Pitfall!

Activision, 1982

Atari 2600

(notice the proper title. It’s not just boring, plain old Pitfall. It’s Pitfall! With excitement!)

I owe a great deal of my childhood, both joy and complete and total terror, to Activision founder and programmer David Crane. Crane created, in my opinion, the two greatest games for the Atari 2600, which by then was already six years old(!). The first one came in a green cartridge. And it was the source of much of my childhood fear.

Pitfall! debuted the same year I was born. My parents had a 2600…a Sears VCS version if I remember correctly. I have no idea exactly when they bought it. Nor do I know when they bought Pitfall!. As far as I am concerned, we had both the entirety of my young existence.

Kids have a great deal of anxiety, and experience a ton of irrational fears. Many are afraid of monsters in the closet or under the bed. Some are freaked out by aliens. Others are fraught about scary animals, or loud noises, or many other things. Me? I was terrified of Pitfall. Terrified.

There was nothing about the game that was enjoyable to me the toddler or the young child. The scenery. The fact that if you took a wrong step, an alligator would swallow you whole. And the sound. My god, the sound! Just listen to it!:

How are you not terrified by that sound? It still haunts me as a 34 year old man. And when I say it haunted me, I mean it. I would have dreams where there were pits in my bedroom, or where alligators were going to eat me. Or those weird snakes that just stand there for some reason stalked me.

Pitfall! was the bane of my existence for much of my early life, and as such was inclined to stay away from it for most of the rest of my life. I’m serious. I never played it. Once or twice in the last twenty years. So it was a strange feeling plugging it into the old wooden-trimmed console, in my cold, dank basement, all by myself, at night to play it. I was ready for those alligators to jump up and swallow me whole, like Harry had encountered countless times.

Surprisingly, the game holds up pretty well, considering it’s 34 years old.

You have twenty minutes to collect as much treasure you can. Two lives. Go left or go right. Those are the only choices you have to make. Being an English-speaking, right-handed person, my inclination was to go right. I did not do very well. I advanced a few screens. Gobbled up by some alligators. And then repeat. It took awhile to get any treasure at all, let alone enough to warrant a decent score.

Then on my next play, I went left. And let me tell you, like in politics, going right is for suckers. (I kid, I kid…). My highest score going right was a little under 10,000; I barely lasted 5 minutes. Going left, my high score was over 37,000; and I lasted considerably longer.

From simply playing, I have no idea if there’s an actual ending in Pitfall!, if there’s a finite amount of treasure, or if you just run out of time. But, it’ still pretty fun, I suppose. All in all, I give it a score of 8.5 man-eating alligators.

Thanks for reading! On our next episode, we will take to the skies to combat (practice combat? I’ve never really been sure) over the middle east.


Every once in awhile, you’ll come across a screen where a peculiar obstacle appears, a campfire.

It’s not difficult to avoid, being narrow and short. But think about it: WHO SET THAT FIRE? Clearly it was not Pitfall Harry. He would have been responsible enough to put it out before running through the jungle. There has to be somebody else in that forest. And a lot of somebody elses, since there are many fires you’ll encounter in the game. So who is it? Is our protagonist being stalked as he hunts for treasure in the forest?

That might be the most terrifying thing about this game.

Originally published at on May 12, 2017.