In October 1982, the US computer magazine "Softalk" printed advertisements that made little sense. Southwestern Data Systems, a prolific Apple software vendor since 1978, promoted "the first game programmed by aliens." For purchase for $ 34.95, by direct order or in the trade. There, so the ad, you should just ask for the game.

The problem with that: you did not know what to ask.

The name of the game, like the instructions in the game itself, was written in a script that looked like you'd put the foot of "a threefold denebish slime greeb into an inkwell and teach it to dance on paper." This is what David Durkee described in the first review of the game. In plain language: One had to first find out by decryption how and what one should actually play there. The early digital community was thrilled with this highly intellectual imposition.

Anyone who managed to break the alien code in "Bezare" or "Brought to Earth" or "Alien Game" as it was soon called, could be pleased about a game that the then popular "Space Invaders" Variants turned upside down: One steered a peaceful alien ship, which was attacked by aggressive people with space shuttles, rockets and tanks. Defending oneself adequately, Durkee thought, required a "schizophrenic attitude" from a human being.

Not only that was powerfully cool, but also a highly innovative feature that first appeared in "Bezare": The boss button, which replaced the game screen with a supposed business application. What an obvious idea!

Gambling as a main purpose

What the early home PCs had to offer useful software, was almost cosmetic: Elementary word processing and the first spreadsheet programs provided the factual justification for the purchase of the exorbitantly expensive machines. But in practice they were often enough used for just one thing - for gambling. Basically, the first Apple, Altairs, Commodores were sophisticated toys.

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It also made "Softalk", one of the first successful public PC magazines, no secret. Here, the global elite of programmers debated, here were discussed business applications, but above all, games. With them you finally tested the limits of the feasible. No wonder that in addition to game charts, lists of the high scores achieved by the gambling readership have found their place in "Softalk".

And the number of computer fans was growing at that time, because PCs began to conquer the world of offices. There, more and more people were learning to use computers - and many discovered that they could be fun with them. This created a problem: how to prevent getting caught in unauthorized gambling?

A spontaneous idea with the beer

The solution was found by Roger Wagner, head of Southwestern Data Systems, at a hang-glider training course in Cantamar, Baja California, in March 1981. He hit a keyboard in a funny-illustrious round that included tech-cracks like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak Shortcut that should make the game screen disappear under a neat looking graphic or spreadsheet.

Actually, Wagner said in an interview with Chris Torrence in 2015, you just sat by the beer and joked around. Because game developers sat at the table and he himself had just commissioned his first game as a publisher, he had spontaneously come up with the idea with the boss key.

He earned a hearty laugh and decided to implement the idea as soon as possible. Wagner persuaded the developer John Besnard to house the "boss button" in his alien game.

The first Boss screen, called via the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + W, was reminiscent of a VisiCalc chart and looked like work. Apparently, the computer user was on a budget ("income, mortgage, phone, food ..."). A believable illusion at first - ignoring the fact that "Outer Space Calculations" was written above the table.

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Sober thing: the first boss screen of computer history

The schlitzohrig-ironic simulation of work should characterize the style of Boss-Key. Objective-looking bar graphs visualized stupid statistics. This did not diminish their success: the idea spread rapidly and was adopted by numerous programmers.

As early as 1983, the soon-to-be-mentioned "panic key" called Boss-Key moved into the IBM PC world ("Friendlyware PC Arcade"). In the same year, Atari was the first major publisher to treat a mainstream title with a boss button ("Star Wars").

The PC boom: The office game as an "entry-level drug"

For PC makers and game publishers, the panic button idea was a blessing. It made it possible for people who did not have a home PC to start playing where they should not: in offices. There were now more and more employees who did not want or could afford a computer until then.

But that too changed rapidly. Commodore's C64 (1982) and even more models such as the Amiga 500 or Ataris PC-1 (both 1987) massively undercut the price levels of Apple computers and IBM PCs, although they offered similar opportunities. "Today," Atari's chief executive Sam Tramiel, son of Commodore founder Jack Tramiel, called to the assembled press at the launch of his first IBM-compatible PC, "we declare war on the computer industry!"

That was no exaggeration. Only the former game computer manufacturers made the home PCs a real mass-produced product. Not by displacing the established manufacturers, but because their attack crashed PC prices - Commodore and Atari ultimately failed.

In the wake of the resulting proliferation of masses, the market for games was also booming, which could easily be downloaded "in between" times via floppy disk. Without Boss-Key there was hardly a game - and in the end hardly a player without a computer.

"Leisure Suit Larry": So you played in 1987

Not only popular grubby games like "Leather Goddesses of Phobos" (1986) or "Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizzards" (1987) offered their players the emergency exit. Even the classic game "Tetris" (1984) had an emergency exit - and was for the next 25 years the epitome of the "unobtrusive in between" to play casual games.

It was not until 2000 that the popularity of "Tetris" in Germany's "Moorhuhn" offices was overtaken - this game also had a boss button from "Moorhuhn 2".

But soon after, the boss shortcuts disappeared. In the mail order business were still physical "panic buttons" or "boss-foot" to get, with which screen content could be superimposed. But they had long since become nostalgic-ironic jokes.

For as early as 1990, Microsoft introduced the principle of multitasking in the world of IBM PCs with Windows 3.0 (Commodore Amiga: 1985, Apple: 1987). Until the mid-1990s, however, systems were sold that could not; many were used until the end of the millennium. At least from then on you could switch between different "windows" by shortcut (Alt + Tab) - the boss key had become superfluous.

But if you like, he lives on in the shortcuts of the operating systems. If you are sitting in front of a Windows computer, it also has a panic button, a boss button, an emergency exit. It makes the desktop appear - but do not panic, the open programs are still there: you just need to reopen the windows (same command again or Alt + Tab).

Try it: Now press the Windows key and "D".

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