Idris Elba Says He Grew Up Playing Commodore 64s, Never Pirated Them

The The New York Times delivered (opens in new tab) my favorite headline for a while: “Idris Elba, a gamer, was interested in joining Sonic the Hedgehog 2.” This is how the article appears in search results, at least. On the Times website, it is remixed into “Idris Elba, Gamer (This is why he was so interested in Sonic the Hedgehog 2)”. The question is: beloved actor Idris Elba? Yes, he is a player. (Which is why he was so interested in playing Knuckles in Sonic the Hedgehog 2.)

Elba told the paper that he has owned “pretty much” every console since the Sega Genesis, and is in “FIFA and driving games” these days. He started playing, however, on a Commodore 64 home computer, which makes him a PC player in my book (or would be if I kept some sort of PC player field ID book).

Elba was nine years old when the Commodore 64 was released in 1982. At the time, it cost $600, which is the equivalent of a pretty good gaming PC today, considering inflation — about $1,740. For this you have a CPU clocked at about 1 MHz and 65 KB of RAM. That’s right.

There were tons of games available for the C64. Lucasfilm Games has released several, including Zak McKracken and Alien Mindbenders and Maniac Mansion. Many arcade games were also ported to it. I played a lot of Bubble Bobble, although I might be thinking about the Apple 2 version.

What Elba played on his Commodore 64 is a mystery, because the NYT’s conversation shifted to the ease with which C64 data cassettes could be copied and therefore pirated. Elba said he knew how to do this, but added in a falsely serious voice that all of his games were “authorized purchases”. Very suspicious! How am I going to enjoy Elba’s performance as Knuckles if I’m wondering if his copy of Bubble Bobble was legitimately obtained or not?

I’ll have to have faith, I guess. Regarding Knuckles, Elba said that she “wanted to try to play him in a squeaky voice” because she “thought it might be funny”. The studio didn’t find it funny and the idea was “overturned immediately”. I like to imagine that Elba starts all her work that way. Heimdall’s squeaky voice. Squeaky Stringer Bell voice.

Elba has not commented on whether or not he will be the next James Bond, which everyone seems to want. I’m not sure Elba knows, though. I’m not even sure he wants to play humans. Knuckles is an echidna, and Elba also played a buffalo in Zootopia, a sea lion in Finding Dory, and a tiger in The Jungle Book. Of his role in the movie Cats, he told the New York Times: “…It’s an amazing experience, being a feline.”

Maybe he’ll play Bond if they make Bond a Scottish wildcat?

Back to the original point of all this: Elba’s PC gaming track record is perhaps not as deep as that of 007 contender Henry Cavill, who think of Warhammer while playing Geralt in Netflix’s Witcher series, but that won’t stop us from welcoming him to the club. Even though he probably copied some Commodore 64 tapes. (I, of course, never copied a floppy (opens in new tab) in my life.)

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