It came in a brightly coloured box and it was, by some distance, the most exciting thing I had ever seen. It was 1977, it was called Telstar and it promised to create "Tennis, Hockey and Handball on any TV". The reality – watching my dad fiddle with wires for hours on end – was more frustration than elation. Yet, even allowing for the fact that after all that effort the three games looked the same and consisted of nothing more than white blobs being batted and blipped back and forth across the screen, some small part of me knew that the videogames era had arrived and life would never be the same.

A year or two later, we would gather after school in an ice-cream parlour that boasted 32 flavours and was home to big, free-standing boxes on which you could play Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man and Galaxian. Stray glassy-eyed gamers would stroll by repeating what had become something of a mantra: "Lend us 10p." We were addicted and obsessed and the only thing these games offered in return was the pride of inputting three initials into the high-score hall of fame or an extra life so we could linger longer.

Kids these days don't know they are born, etc. Call of Duty? Halo? Grand Theft Auto? These labyrinthine odysseys are to the games we used to play what the complete works of Shakespeare are to Where's Spot?. And that's not to mention that you can now exercise with your Wii Fit, rock out with your Guitar Hero, host living-room karaoke nights or go-kart race against your granny as you choose.

In fact, those early "Pong" clones have now spawned a $74bn industry that would have been impossible if not for the launch – 30 years ago tomorrow – of Clive Sinclair's ZX Spectrum, which put the power to create games into the hands of anyone willing to work out what "edit", "run", "list" and "go to" meant to a computer (trigonometry was handy, too).

For most of us that meant making our name or the word "Hello" scroll down the screen. For others, their imagination was the only limit. And has the human race suffered as a result? Some might say so. But then they probably never completed Zelda: Ocarina of Time.