PlayThings: Atari 2600 10-in-1

Repacking Atari history into a concise little package

Bringing you the latest instalment in our Playthings news series, examining the fascinating stories behind the played videogame objects from our Playthings exhibition and beyond.

You may have noticed that we like controllers here at the NVM.

Until the day that we can directly control games with our minds, and that future might not be too far away, these pieces of degrading plastic and electronics, imbued with our memories of interacting with the soaring narratives or dazzling mechanical inputs, offer the primary way for us to engage with our favourite medium.

And, wowza, at first glance, this installment of PlayThings features an absolutely iconic controller!

It’s the Atari CX-10 joystick. Released with the Atari 2600 in Europe in 1978 (the US in 1977), the controller weighs as much as a small bag of rice or pasta…or lentils if you want to get sophisticated about this. The Atari wasn’t the first home console ever created – see our tribute to the stellar Magnavox Odyssey – but it was one of the first to achieve a mass form of popularity, particularly in the United States. The joystick became a globally recognised symbol not just for Atari, but for games culture through the late 1970s and into the 1980s. See: 🕹️

Yet upon closer inspection, there’s something a little strange on the top side of this joystick…composite video and mono audio cables? Hmm, that’s strange. And look, on the bottom side of the joystick there’s a Reset, Select, and Start button…and an On/Off switch? What on earth has happened to our beloved CX-10?!

Well, before panic falls, this object is just a CX-10 in disguise. In fact, this is the Atari 10-in-1 made by Jax Games. If you wanted to catch a glimpse of innovative home console games in the late 1970s and early 1980s, you’d be hard pushed to find as simple an alternative.

Plug this device directly into your TV with the now-prehistoric cables, and feast your eyes on a period-inspired menu of 10 classic and iconic Atari games. Everyone is here! Adventure; Asteroids; Breakout; Centipede; Circus Atari; Gravitar; Missile Command; Pong; Volleyball; Yar’s Revenge (with apologies to Pac-Man, Indy 500, Fishing Derby, Thunderground, and Montezuma’s Revenge).

What is pretty neat about the Atari 10-in-1, barring the obvious glut of games, is how this object demonstrates how technological progress allows the shrinkage of older technology. The original Atari 2600 is a black and (gloriously) wood-paneled machine of significant heft. In contrast, this joystick essentially contains an Atari 2600 within it. This is a unique way of repackaging the history of Atari without losing its iconic symbol of interaction.

Admittedly, there is some functionality removed, such as the removal of the cartridge slot, but to compensate, you are given a curated selection of 10 games. And they are pretty much faithful emulations of the original versions that are central to understanding the early landscape of home console gaming.

Want to learn more about videogame PlayThings?
Learn about E.T. and the U.S. game market crash
Why Mario’s Hat is more than just a magical cap
Explore the first ever videogame console