Sweaty palms, chocolate milk, lazy Saturdays, offers by mail and a Polaroid camera. I present to you some badges of honor so rare that most people are unaware of their existence- Activision Atari 2600 high score patches.
Gamers have always tried to achieve the near impossible. The high score on the Frogger arcade game at the pizza shop, beating Super Mario Brothers straight through without warping, or unlocking the full 1000 gamerpoints for Halo 3 on the Xbox have led to countless sleepless nights, numerous skipped classes, and a pile of undone homework that would reach sky high. There was nothing better as a kid than being able to boast of indeed beating Contra, and doing it without the infamous cheat code that all of your loser friends had to use to make it through. Your usual reward for the monumental, the herculean, the sheer impossible of gaming milestones? Usually just bragging rights. However, back in the day so to speak, Activision rewarded Atari players for their achievements with something much more tangible.
In a move which doubtlessly inspired Microsoft's current digital Xbox achievements, Activision offered a mail order reward program for its most hardcore, high scoring players. Each game had an established high score or objective and players meeting the qualifications could take a photo of their TV showing the score, mail it to Activision and receive a truly spectacular corresponding patch for the game (list of games and corresponding hi scores for patches here). Additionally, as below Starmaster patch illustrates, some games had multiple tiers of achievements, each being rewarded suitably.
As you can probably surmise these patches are rare. Most Gamers were unaware of the program and those in the know not only had to actually earn the patch (which for some games was incredibly difficult), but also go through the hassle of photographing and mailing a photo in the days before digital photography. Couple that with the fact that some of the games were fairly obscure even by 1980s standards (You may have heard of Pitfall and River Raiders but how about Dolphin or Plaque Attack?) and it becomes near impossible, and pricey to assemble a complete set.
I can't think of a more suitable or charming reward for a million points in Laser Blast or twenty thousand points in Pitfall. Each patch is a mini artwork standing in testament to a hard fought digital victory that will last through the ages. Or at least until the patch fades.
I currently have twenty two but will hopefully be able to track down the remaining patches necessary to complete my collection.