Defender was not a game one simply played. Similar to Mount Everest, one played it for the challenge, for the frustration, for the triumphant flourishes that signaled one’s victory! Or, if that player was me, you played it because you had just watched Return of the Jedi for the umpteenth time and you thought space was just about the coolest thing ev-ar! And all you wanted to do was watch things go into space, play with things that flew in space, and be with creatures that lived in space. Especially if they were Ewoks. Yeah, that’s right, I loved the Ewoks. You gotta a problem with THAT?
Huh. Yeah, I didn’t think so.
But Defender. Defender was one of those games I either played for minutes or hours. And by hours I mean, hoooouuuurrrss — like whole days gone, parents yelling “go outside!,” and homework long forgotten. When I got into a grove with the game, it was like I was hypnotized. That’s not to say I was good at the game, because I really wasn’t. But when death came my way and I had to start all over, it didn’t, for whatever reason, cause teeth gnashing and controller flinging. Instead, I wordlessly started over and pleasantly re-entered my trance.
From YouTube User tr0d. And holy hell, I sure coulda used this series back in the day!
Defender’s premise was simple: save the humans! Which makes…sense? See, apparently…now this is a funny story…in the game of Defender what happened was that all the Hello-Nice-Alien beams ((pffft laughs)) we had shot into space, y’know the signals letting other worlds know that the Earth existed and wanted to get all ((stifles another laugh)) warm and fuzzy with other life forms, actually attracted the evil ones that wanted to…omg…KILL US! LOL! Holy jeezus ((cackle! cackle! hoo!)) Is that some hee-lar-ee-ous shit or what?!! Bwahahahahaha! Oh man…you gotta…give me a second to get…my…my…
Yeah. The arcade version of the game was made in 1980 and the Atari version was released in 1981 — pre-E.T. and the idea of nice, friendly aliens. So the story was what it was, and your goal as the heroic ship was to, what else, defend! Defend the Earth and its cowardly (seriously) citizens from the baiters and landers and swarmers and bombers and mutants. Really, I did not make up those name — those were the evil aliens, as cute, colorful, and super spiteful vector graphics nonetheless. Anyway, all you had to do in this classic 2D side-scroller was shoot everything out of the sky…except your people whom you had to occasionally save. Beat all the enemies in one wave and onto the next you went. There wasn’t much more to it than that.
Or was there?
I mean, it was early 80s. The Cold War was in full effect. The US and USSR were mortal enemies. Maybe Defender was little more than a thinly-veiled attempt at propaganda. Think about it: upstanding savoir ship versus the cruel, inhuman, and terribly-named aggressors! Oh yeah, Defender looked innocent enough with its colorful vector graphics and speedy/slide-y/shoot-y/trance-enducing controls; but what lurked underneath that facade was the message: Capitalism good, Communism bad…BAD…REALLY SUPER BAD! And it was mean to brainwash, YES, BRAINWASH guileless children like me into believing that heinous beings lingered in our skies — those ALIENS, those COMMUNISTS…those GODDAMN COMMIE PINKO BASTARDS!
ALL HAIL THE CAPITALIST STATE!
DEFEND THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC AGAINST THE VICIOUS SOCIALIST REGIME!!
Nah, I’m just fucking around…Defender was about flying around and shooting aliens, nothing more. And about playing a game until you no longer realized you had a joystick in your hands.