What Elite taught me as a 7 year old 1


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!

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One thought on “What Elite taught me as a 7 year old

  • Steph Wyeth

    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. 🙂