What Elite taught me as a 7 year old


Just before I launch into this post, a quick note to all Alpha readers: Thanks so much for all your praise and constructive criticism. My email has bounced for a few of you however. I will try and keep getting in touch but if you think you should have received a copy of the novel but you haven’t, please let me know.




This is a topic that has been discussed by a few people since the start of the Elite Dangerous Kickstarter. I came across the 68000 series Elite on the Atari ST around 1988-89. I spent alot of time playing this game, and I mean a lot. You’ve probably heard of the time I tried to fly across the first galactic map using escape capsules (which was faster than flying the regular way) and blew the Atari ST up (or at least the extra ram that made it an Atari ST 1024!)

As a child you absorb things in a sponge-like manner and I was always interested in learning, well, anything. I’m one of those guys who if I’m not careful, can get lost in the wikipedia maze for ever. So with this kind of mindset I gobbled up anything Elite had to teach me. But more than that it sent me off to learn more about other things. So I guess you can say that there are two categories of education: 1) Things Elite taught me directly. and 2) Things Elite caused me to learn.

Here is my list. It’s not exhaustive but I think it is a good representation of the benefits of Elite.

What did you learn when you played Elite? If enough people are interested I’ll do a follow up post combining everyone’s thoughts.



Check out this screen shot. Look at all these wonderful pictures. As a 7 year old I didn’t understand half of these pictures or the names associated with them: Platinum, Textiles, Narcotics, Alloys. They all sounded like positively brilliant words to use. Once my father explained what each was, bang! In the vocabulary and ready to be used to sound intelligent at any given moment.

I didn’t stop there though. Platinum was a metal, a rare one. It looked like silver. I had to learn more about it. We had the Encyclopaedia Brittanica set at home so I learnt everything I could about the Periodic Table. Consequently in the stories I wrote as a youth I had a ship called the ‘Platinum Acuity’ and I also had a ship called ‘Protacnium’, a shortened version of ‘Protactinium’

Velocity was another great word I learned from Elite, not terribly useful till first year university but still something I was able to slip into conversation in the intervening years.

I learnt about the international ‘radioactive’ symbol and went on to learn about radiation and Chernobyl. I learnt that gemstones were a ‘precious’ stone, but that there were other precious stones. Topaz was the one that stuck in my mind, even though it was only semi-precious.

*Classical Music*

The docking music was called the Blue Danube. It was by a dude called Strauss. He was from Austria. It was four hundred years old. But further, there was lots of music still around from this time. Loads of it. Hadyn, Mozart, Bach, Wagner, the list goes on. They all had awesome music that you could find on a lot of computer games of that period. Mum ordered some tapes of classical music through Readers Digest and a love affair was born!

*Buy low, Sell high*.
Sounds kind of simple, right? But it was a revelation at the time. This was how economics worked. Fantastic. Thanks to this little nugget I became very rich, very quick. If only it was real money . . .

Of course on the flipside I learnt how ridiculously simple this was, for an entire planet to be turned toward being purely agricultural or industrial. Certain parts of a world lend themselves toward agriculture and some bits don’t. If a planet is only agricultural then the parts not suited to agriculture would not be used as efficiently as they could be.

*Space stations rotate*. This firmly comes into the second category of what Elite caused me to learn. Why were those damn coriolis space stations rotating? To create gravity. How does that work? Well my dad showed me by spinning a bucket of water around his head. It seemed magical, but I had to trust in my own eyes and an interest in physics was born (which would be stymied by my 7th form physics teacher, but brought back to life by my first year university lecturer who had his own love affair with Ernest Rutherford)


There are many kinds of governments in the original Elite: Dictatorship, Feudal, Corporate, Anarchy. Again my father had to come to the rescue and explain what all these things meant, but I understood. It meant an entire planet was under the control of either one person, or one company, or no one at all. Then there were ‘Multi State’ governments and I remember my dad saying ‘That’s what Earth is right now” and my brain exploded and I said simply “Wow”. That connection between the game and the real world was just a little bit too intense for my little brain.


I’ve left the best one for last. Before Elite I knew NOTHING about snakes. Why would I? I grew up in New Zealand and we don’t have snakes. They couldn’t have been less to do with my life if they had tried.

Yet, I found myself in a world filled with Cobras and Adders and Asps and Kraits and Fer-De-Lances. I couldn’t believe these were all names for snakes? They were so abstract and so varied and so wonderful. I was entranced and learned everything I could about these reptiles.

I still remember the first time I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and John Rhys Davies says “Asps. Very Dangerous” and I nodded my head and thought “I know about Asps!” That was a very cool moment.


What did Elite teach you? I’d love to hear from you!


4 responses to “What Elite taught me as a 7 year old

  1. Interesting! I’d never really thought of it like that.

    I can’t say that I learned a great deal but the near silence and wireframe graphics of the Acorn Electron version exercised my imagination leading to an enjoyment of “spacey-things” in later life. During the summer holidays this kid could journey across the stars!

    My parents must have wondered what on earth was going on as they would have heard me muttering out loud “This is Isinor Control, docking clearance granted” and suchike. 🙂

  2. It was fun to read your recollections from childhood. Elite wasn’t like any other game at the time in the way it combined 3D graphics and a deep setting. Like you, it broadened my horizons even though I was a little older when I played it. I’m not sure I could have docked aged seven!

    The only other games at the time that fired my imagination and opened my eyes to new things to the same extent were in the role-playing, military sim, and adventure genres. These, however, tended to be scripted. Elite was something special, even though I played in black and white and loaded my copy from a cassette tape.

  3. Pingback: Spacey Gamey News and Deals 8/10/13-9/3/13: A News Post So Big I Hope It Doesn’t Break the Site… | Space Game Junkie

  4. It was a time of great wonders… Elite, and the TTA books, the many series and movies, the heritage of the great ’50s and ’60s Sci-Fi writers, and the great space madness of the ’80s. Why would all these writers dream of worlds uncounted, discovering unknown lifeforms and stunning social systems ? They only pushed the limits. Ever. Always further…

    It was a time of optimism. I recall optimism was everywhere. We did believe mankind would be able, one day, to do great things… Eh, btw, at least far greatest than only exploring the single world on which we were born…. We did believe in the future, in hope and in ourselves. Moreover, we did believe we’d one day encounter other sentient beings, and we longed for that time…

    Now retrospectively, when I see the ’90s, ‘2ks and ‘2k10s mindset, I can’t help thinking : “That’s strange, how did we lose that spirit on our way ?” The ’80s were thrilling, people were dreaming awake of achieving things greater than themselves. Then, sometime along the ’90s, people turned to not dreaming beyond making fast bucks and climbing up the ladder even by crushing down others. Or, maybe they were repressing their dreams ? Maybe they lost faith in their ability to make them happen ?

    Even mainstream Sci-Fi only dealt with megacorpos eating resources, post-apo worlds turned upside down by a cataclysm or another, or alien invasions with no depth further than being the meanest bad-guy-of-the-week and then being single-handedly stopped by the hero-of-the-week, restorer of before-the-invasion status-quo. It were 3 decades of downtime, with a few people still nurturing our flame and passion amidst a world painted a low-morale grey…

    But the Coriolis wheel is turning, and daydream times are returning ! Elite has been seminal to a whole genre that deeply shaped the world of video games and it’s not gonna fade away. It’s being underground for too long and now it’s surfacing back, stronger than ever, along with new dreams and … A New Hope ? Thousands of Exoplanets, NASA studying an Alcubiere drive, massive crowdfunding for Star Citizen and Elite:Dangerous, a host of independent spacey games, the Avatar effect, things are stirring up and a new dawn of starfaring dreams is at hand !

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