Before the Crash
Early Video Game History
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Wayne State University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
Foreword by Ed Rotberg
When Mark asked me to write the foreword for Before the Crash, I was certainly flattered, but my first thought was: “Why me?” A little introspection quickly gave me the answer—I’m old! Certainly relative to this industry I’m old. Before I started to work for Atari, I had been working for a large pharmaceutical corporation, integrating microcomputers into lab equipment for real-time data acquisition and analysis—fun stuff, huh? In my...
So begins patent number 2,455,992, issued to Thomas T. Goldsmith and Estle Ray Mann, who applied for the patent January 25, 1947, and received it December 14, 1948, for what can now be considered the world’s first description of an interactive game played on a cathrode-ray tube. But the...
Video Games Caught Up in History: Accessibility, Teleological Distortion, and Other Methodological Issues
At the foundation of history as a discipline, lies the necessity to synthesize vast bodies of information in order to represent the evolution of human cultures. The exclusion of sources and artifacts constitutes its inevitable shortcoming. The self-proclaimed objective accumulation of facts—thematically organized, chronologically ordered—associated with positivistic...
What’s Victoria Got To Do with It? Toward an Archaeology of Domestic Video Gaming
Video games are played by persons, but they are also played by contexts, because we cannot separate ourselves from the cultural, ideological, economic, and social conditions within which we live our lives.1 Humans mold contexts, but—perhaps to an even greater degree—contexts mold humans. A person pushing a shopping cart through the isles of a supermarket may feel absolutely free to choose whatever he or she wants, but the shopper’s...
In today’s world, watching a video game sometimes awards the viewer with
the same experience as viewing a movie. Graphics, especially in sports
games, seem to be so realistic that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish
between real and imaginary.
As graphics improve, audiences’ expectations of games also advance....
Channel F for Forgotten: The Fairchild Video Entertainment System
The Channel F Video Entertainment System occupies an important place in video game history. It comprised several significant milestones in home console technology and culture but remains relatively unknown today, whereas its major competitor, the Atari Video Game System (VCS, renamed the Atari 2600 in 1982), is emblematic of retro gaming nostalgia with an active hobbyist community that still produces new games for the...
The Video Game Industry Crash of 1977
Though the Great Video Game Industry Crash of 1983 is well known, it was not the first time the industry experienced a crash. The crash of 1977, although not as big or long-lasting, was the first to test the home video game industry. In some ways, it was a warning to the industry and was predictive of the Great Crash of 1983, with which it shared similar conditions: burgeoning...
A Question of Character: Transmediation, Abstraction, and Identification in Early Games Licensed from Movies
In recent years, the production processes, aesthetic possibilities, and commercial goals of cinema and video games have become so intertwined that the promotional build-ups surrounding most video games licensed from movies boast of their ability to create digital avatars that nearly duplicate the photorealistic appearance and behavior of their cinematic counterparts. For example, according to its press release, the game...
Every Which Way But . . . : Reading the Atari Catalog
I remember the arrival of the Atari 2600 game system into my life quite clearly. I was fascinated even then by how its black plastic ridges echoed the black plastic grill on the TV set—the one that “protected” such fine controls as the knobs to adjust tint or saturation. Like the television set, the Atari also bore a faux wood-grain pattern across it: both of these plastic, electronic devices clearly wanted to reference some earlier moment in interior...
One-Bit Wonders: Video Game Sound before the Crash
The sound of the early video game arcades is probably embedded in the consciousness of everyone who was a child during the late 1970s and early 1980s. To walk into an arcade was to experience an overwhelming onslaught of crashes, laser guns, synthesized speech, and electronic beeping music, all competing for our attention. There have been several attempts to recreate the video game arcade atmosphere (such as Andy Hofle’s Arcade...
The Rise and Fall of Cinematronics
For several decades prior to the eruption of PONG (1972) and its clones and mutations, pinball games were the kings of coin-operated amusement. That changed drastically when cathode-ray tube (CRT) displays enabled amusements like Computer Space (1971), Nolan Bushnell’s coin-operated version of Spacewar! (1962), and of course, Ralph Baer’s TV tennis game that inspired PONG. The new, virtual entertainments brought with them...
Color-Cycled Space Fumes in the Pixel Particle Shockwave: The Technical Aesthetics of Defender and the Williams Arcade Platform, 1980–82
In today’s gaming press, it’s common enough to hear about pixel shaders, polygons per second, the Cell chip, and the network speed and latency of our current game hardware—the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, the iPhone, or the latest PC graphics boards. This technical fetishization is not always helpful in assessing games as meaningful play experiences, but it does tell us something about the underlying materials that those games are made...
Coin-Drop Capitalism: Economic Lessons from the Video Game Arcade
The video game industry as a whole recovered after the Crash of 1983, but many arcades did not, and within a few years, towns that had previously boasted numerous arcades were left with just a few grimy machines in the corner of the bowling alley. Today, the video game arcade persists as a nostalgic space, an entertainment gimmick, or a nerd mecca for the truly dedicated. The history of gaming as practice critically illuminates the evolution...
Early Online Gaming: BBSs and MUDs
It’s an unmistakable sound, the piercing shriek of a 300-baud dial-up modem making a connection. It’s followed by then the flash of a welcome screen and pathways to buzzing chat rooms, fantasy role-playing in virtual dungeons, libraries of pirated software, text-based flirtation, and impish trolling. The year is 1983, a decade before the World Wide Web became a truly worldwide phenomenon....
Appendix A: Video Game History: Getting Things Straight
Appendix B: The Magnavox Co. v. Activision, Inc.: 1985 WL 9469 (N.D. Cal. 1985)