Computer games have been around for almost as long as computers themselves, with the very first playable programme widely acknowledged to be Bertie The Brain, a version of noughts and crosses made in 1950 by Canadian engineer, Josef Kates.
A man of many talents, he was also the person behind the world’s first automated traffic lights.
Those early pioneers had to wait the best part of another three decades before gaming as we know it became commercially viable, initially in arcades before spreading to homes via consoles such as the Atari VCS/2600.
Practically every genre imaginable has been visited by developers over the years, including the wonderful world of waste management.
Here, we give you a rundown of the best (and worst) games which feature recycling or tidying up a mess.
ALLEY CAT (1983, Atari 8 Bit, PC)
Its links to waste management are tenuous at best, but the late Bill Williams’s oddball masterpiece still stands up as an enjoyable game today.
You take on the role of Freddy The Cat, a rapscallion local tom who patrols the local area seeking mice to catch in order to impress the love of his life, Felicia.
The game sees Freddy in a series of bizarre mini-games, in which he has to avoid cat-eating spiders, electric eels inside a goldfish bowl, and waking up sleeping dogs while simultaneously drinking their milk.
However, his ultimate nemesis is the fussy broomstick which hovers around most of the single room levels.
It follows him around mercilessly, looking to sweep him out of the room and back into his rodent infested alley. Freddy can distract the broomstick by dashing around and leaving muddy paw prints all over the floor which his foe feels duty bound to clean up before resuming the chase.
TRASHMAN (1984, C64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC)
A genuine 8 bit classic which found its way onto the big three home computers of the time, Trashman sees you trying to survive your weekly bin rounds in an unnamed, white picket-fenced English town.
It should be a sedate way to pass the time, but no, it’s a notoriously difficult game where you have to avoid being gnashed by dogs who have a strange attachment to their family’s rubbish. There are Frogger elements, too, with cars and cyclists paying no attention to you whatsoever and it’s instantly game over if you collide with either.
Crucially, speed is of the essence, and if too many complaints come in about your slow service, you’ll be fired before picking up your wage packet.
Bonus points for having a midi rendition of ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’ as the theme tune, although the sequel, Travel With Trashman, really hasn’t aged well at all.
STREET SURFER (1986, C64)
An endless racer in which you play a gnarly skateboarding dude who catapults himself down a busy carriageway, putting himself and other road users in mortal danger with his wayward antics.
He’s on a mission, though. A mission to pick up empty glass bottles from the verdant grass verges on either side of the street, or daringly/dangerously pluck them out of the hands of drivers who are about to throw them out their car window.
You must avoid potholes, cars and (of course) chickens, and deposit everything you’ve collected in the frequent bottle banks you encounter on your haphazard journey.
While we applaud the street surfer’s commitment to recycling, cleaning up roadside detritus really should be left to the professionals.
CAPTAIN PLANET AND THE PLANETEERS (1991, NES, Amiga, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC)
History hasn’t been kind at all to this largely forgotten game by Mindscape. In fact, the reviews at the time were brutal.
Based on the cartoon of the same name, it wasn’t just the clunky controls, outrageous difficulty curve and imprecise platforming in the 16 bit version (the 8 bit game was an even worse side-scrolling shooter) which raised the hackles of the magazines, but the extremely serious eco-warrior message which was imposed throughout was a major irritant.
We’re hugely proud of our green credentials here at Fresh Start, but for a game aimed at children it’s probably setting the bar a little too high – no matter how well meaning it’s meant to be – to expect them to ‘Remove Toxic Waste, Fix The Ozone Layer, Free The Seals’ on the very first level.
ECO-SAURUS (1991, PC)
A rare edutainment title from First Byte which aims to teach primary school kids how to recycle plastic, glass and organic waste with the help of Alice, a lipstick-wearing dinosaur with a creepy digitised voice.
You are given directions about which type of recyclable materials to collect in various locations, including at the Skatehenge skate park, the local dino golf course, and at the fabled E.C.O. Saurus offices itself.
Picking up the different types of litter can be a hit-and-miss affair, as it’s not always apparent what the chunky VGA objects are meant to be, but it’s a bright and cheerful game which should keep the little ‘uns happy.
AWESOME POSSUM KICKS DR. MACHINO’S BUTT (1993, Megadrive)
Mario and Sonic are undisputed icons in the world of gaming, a mantle which poor old Awesome Possum was never likely to gain.
Voiced by Doug Lawrence, a writer and voice over artist who is best known for his work on Rocko’s Modern Life and SpongeBob SquarePants, it’d be fair to say that Awesome Possum took his cues for Sega’s famous hedgehog, albeit at a much slower pace, with more clipping issues and a much dingier palette.
In case you are in any doubt, Dr. Machino (presumably pals with Sonic’s bête noire, Dr. Robotnik) is the villain of the piece, and he and his army of dastardly robots are hell bent on flooding the planet with pollution.
You need to stop them in their tracks by collecting aluminium cans and other recyclables which the robots have littered the various levels with, as well as reaching the checkpoint in tact.
Once you complete the game, Awesome Possum quite literally kicks Dr. Machino’s butt, preceding Father Ted’s altercation with Bishop Brennan by a good few years. He then squeaks out a victorious “I’m Awesome!”, before having his face promptly carved into the side of Mount Rushmore in a stunning piece of cultural vandalism.
SUPER MARIO SUNSHINE (2002, GameCube)
Perhaps the most underrated of Mario’s mainstream appearances, ‘…Sunshine’ sees Nintendo’s moustachioed mascot taking a hard earned break on a tropical paradise after having rescued Princess Toadstool for the umpteenth time in Super Mario 64.
Unfortunately for him, a lookalike called Shadow Mario vandalises the dolphin-shaped island with graffiti and piles of stinking waste, with the world’s best-known plumber taking the fall for all the destruction. He is swiftly found guilty and sentenced to stay put until the whole place is patched up.
Of course, he soon realises that it’s a colossal set-up and with his FLUDD water nozzle in tow, he sets out to clean the island and capture the real crook, who it turns out is none other than Bowser’s youngest son, Bowser Jr.
GARBAGEMAN (2011, iPhone/iPad)
In this endless runner action game by Brazilian developers, Doubleleft, our hero is in a quandary as he and his colleagues in the wagon appear to be running late. Very late, in fact, as the driver has decided against stopping all the way back to the depot.
This means that the titular Garbageman has to dash behind the lorry at full pelt, picking up bins and rubbish bags, and throwing them from a distance into the rear loader.
He has to do this while avoiding pedestrians, onrushing traffic and deadly banana skins. It’s a health and safety nightmare.
DUSTFORCE (2012, PC, PS, Xbox 360)
Inspiration can strike at the oddest of times, with Woodley Nye’s light bulb moment for Dustforce coming while sweeping up a pile of leaves.
From there, he and the programmers at Hitbox Team created the world’s first speedrunning, combo-chaining clean ’em up. Once you get comfortable with the game’s initially awkward controls, you gradually unlock a world full of secrets buried away beneath the mulch.
You choose from a squad of four janitors who, fed up of living with the filth that has piled up around them, have bravely stepped into the breach in order to clean it up with their hard-working brooms.
The tutorial gives you the basics, but you’re largely left on your own to discover 50+ levels of baddies, hidden moves and more than enough leaves to stop all the trains in the country.
RECYCLE: GARBAGE TRUCK SIMULATOR (2014, PC)
The PC is littered with Sim games. You can live out your dreams as practically anything in the virtual world, from the well received Farming Simulator series, the zen-like Euro Truck Simulator 2, to the cult classic that is Goat Simulator.
Although there are occasional flashes of inspired brilliance, the majority of games with ‘Simulator’ in the title are destined for history’s digital dustbin. Fidget Spinner Simulator, Cockroach Simulator and Autobahn Police Simulator are all headed that way, along with Recycle: Garbage Truck Simulator.
Purporting to give you free reign over your own waste management empire in Wasteville, it’s a clunky exercise in frustration, with graphics and sound effects that barely look like they’ve left alpha and more bugs than Flying Ant Day.
Route contracts are ‘bought’, containers are placed around town, and rubbish is collected before being sent off for recycling, incineration, or to pushed around a landfill site by bright yellow loaders until the end of time.
We can say with a good deal of authority that running a real life waste management company is much more fun.