chapter  2
43 Pages

NEW GAMES

It is often surprising, for both fans of videogames and non-acolytes alike, to learn that the history of the medium extends back as far as the 1960s (see Burnham 2003 for a thorough history of the early years of videogame development), and despite snappy (sub)titles like ‘From Pong to Pokémon and beyond … ’ (Kent 2001), the bat and ball game comes almost a decade into gaming history. In fact, as Kent, Burnham and others note, while Steve Russell’s 1962 Spacewar!, created in the university computer labs at MIT, is typically cited as the first videogame, experiments such as Willy Higginbotham’s oscilloscope-based Tennis for Two potentially extend the history of electronic games back into the 1950s, while Egenfeldt-Nielsen et al.’s (2008) timeline manages to trace the antecedents of videogames back to 3500BC! Regardless of their identification of the exact point of origin, a few things are consistent across videogame histories. Almost all are oriented around a fairly uncontested chronology. Despite the comprehensiveness of their coverage back to classical civilisations, few timelines or histories account for the Soviet-era games collected at the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines, for instance (see Zaitchik 2007; Connal 2010). Similarly, the plethora of often illegal copies of hardware and software, or even non-valorised games such as Dora the Explorer or the DS’s seemingly infinite supply of horsegrooming titles like My Horse and Me and Petz Pony Beauty Pageant, are typically ignored in favour of Doom and The Sims, or more recent success stories such as Grand Theft Auto and Halo. As we shall see throughout this book, there is a palpable sense of ‘progression’ in gaming histories, which are invariably presented as chronologies that codify the movement not only from one decade to another but even from dominant genre or interface (Egenfeldt-Nielsen et al.’s chart demonstrates the (dis)appearance of ‘text interfaces’ and ‘digitized film’ in relation to adventure games, for instance; Egenfeldt-Nielsen et al. 2008: 52). What we detect in these and other chronologies,

timelines and histories is not just a movement through time, not just progression, but rather a sense of ‘progress’ towards better, faster technology, if not better games. Indeed, the consistency of gaming histories and their focus on discourses of technical progress bear much in common with the broader historical narratives of computing and technology (e.g. Burnham 2003; DeMaria and Wilson 2002; Kent 2001). In particular, we should note that, while it is incontestably moving forward, the

trajectory of gaming history and technology enshrined in these narratives is far from continuous or smoothly progressive. Rather, the pattern is one that is overwhelmingly characterised by a series of ‘ruptures’ that demonstrably and inexorably alter the course thereafter (see Fox 2006). These ‘generations’, as they are known in gaming parlance, generally refer to versions of hardware and remind us of the significance of hardware platforms in delivering and ordering gameplay experience and the historical memory of it (see McDonough et al. 2010: 20), though we should note also the ability of particular games to operate in this similarly disruptive manner (see Lowood’s 2006 discussion of ‘The Doom Revolution’, for instance). What is perhaps most interesting about the narrative of gaming is that, despite its use of this genealogical terminology, the notion of ‘generations’ is not primarily motivated by a desire to invoke lineage, the continuity of ages or the groundedness of contemporary gameplay in grand and venerable traditions of the past. Rather, what we see in narratives of videogame history is a desire to maintain an inexorable sense of forward motion. It is worth noting that this is not simply a post-rationalised process, and we should note also that considerable discursive work continually takes place at the most fundamental levels. The naming conventions of gaming consoles is just one manifestation of this progressive urge and one place within which technology is ‘spoken for’ (Grint and Woolgar 1997: 32). Whether it is because of the techno-suffix of the Nintendo 64 (N64) that alludes

to the potency of the 64-bit CPU lurking inside the case or the GameBoy Advance that communicates in a rather more qualitative, prosaic way its superiority over the plain old GameBoy, we have become well used to the ways in which the nomenclature of gaming hardware contributes to the keenly felt sense of technological progress. As a case in point, at the time of writing Sony has announced the existence and imminent release of the successor to the PSP (PlayStation Portable) handheld console, thereby obsolescing the now ‘distinctly unimpressive’ PSPgo.