The ‘Gears’ of my childhood: a LCL post with an unhappy ending

I’m in MIT’s Learning Creative Learning MOOC, and I think it’s going to be a MOOC with which I stick.  Much like DS106, LCL promises to be fun and engaging with philosophies to ponder months after it ends.

One of the first reading assignments is to read the foreward, “The Gears of My Childhood” from Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms.  From what I hear, reading just the foreward of Mindstorms isn’t enough.  It’s a book I plan to continue with over the next few weeks.  There was a short writing assignment with the reading.  It goes something like this:

Read Seymour Papert’s essay on the “Gears of My Childhood” and write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you (and share with your group).

I would like to sit here and tell you that the Apple IIe that my parents brought home one evening was the most profound object to enter our house.  I’d like to say that I learned how computers really worked, that I learned how to program in elementary school, that I demystified computing, technology, whatever you want to call it.  I didn’t do any of that though.

I typed words and sentences into the command line, pressed enter, and pretended that I was doing important work, making big things happen, dominating my enemies.

The only thing I was really dominating was on that Apple IIe was “Sammy Lightfoot”

screenshot from Sammy Lightfoot

Image from

and “Below the Root,” (which was based on the novel by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, one of my favorite authors at the time.  Although her name was in the credits, I was not clever enough to make the connection between the game and her until years later.  Um, I may have also stolen a copy of Below the Root from a library that will go unnamed.  I know.  I feel bad about this).

Screenshot from Below the Root

Image from

The day I solved/won/beat “Below the Root”–a game that I spent weeks playing–is one of the more memorable days from my childhood.  I vividly remember waking up and thinking, “This is what I need to do to win this game.”  And then I did it.  It was very much one of those “Aha!” moments that is actually a result hours/days/weeks spent cogitating about the problem at hand.

The Apple IIe wasn’t the “gear” of my childhood.  It was just an outlet for play and imagination.  It was, like Legos, Barbies, and a motley assortment of Smurf figurines, a way to create universes with complex plots, character motivation, protagonists, story arcs, etc.

With my rad gaming experience and interest in creating alternate universes, I really should gotten into game design or something.  Instead I studied English in college.  How depressing is that?  I went from making my own stories to reading about other people’s stories (and then writing mediocre essays about those stories).  From active to passive.

At some point there was an almost overnight shift (or so it seems) from playing to self-doubt and self-consciousness.  I’m still trying to figure out when this shift occurred and why it occurred.


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