There will be a lunchtime research seminar of the Dept of Screen and Media, on Monday 4th May from 1pm, featuring papers by two scholars, Graeme Kirkpatrick (UK/Sweden) and Melanie Swalwell (Flinders), working in the emerging field of game history. You are welcome to bring your lunch.
Where: Flinders University Bedford Park campus, Humanities Building, Room 101. There is a map here.
Computer games were born twice: three phases in the development of a techno-cultural form
André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion have proposed a model of the emergence of new technological media, according to which they are born twice. The first appearance sees them entwined with, even subordinate to other elements of the socio-technical situation. The second birth involves a change in cultural perceptions that foregrounds the new form and becomes constitutive for its future trajectory. This paper recommends this model for computer game history, arguing that while games entered popular culture through arcades and other entertainment spaces in the 1970s, gaming culture did not establish its autonomy and independence until the middle of the 1980s. Only then did games played on computers start to be perceived and understood on their own terms as computer games, mediated through a cultural prism specific to them.
Heterodoxy in Local Games Historiography: or, what’s wrong with game history?
How might we write local game histories? How does one position the local without falling into the trap of exceptionalism? These are pressing questions for those researching histories not of the ‘centres’ of game development, but the ‘peripheries’. A scholar with a local focus will likely be asked to set their work in a wider context to make its significance clear to non-local audiences, a burden not demanded of those writing from the ‘centre’ (Montfort & Bogost 4; Campbell-Kelly 276). This raises the prospect that doing ‘local game history’ might actually mean ‘comparative game history’. Yet whilst a local emphasis apparently encourages specificity, it can masquerade as yet another version of the search for origins.
This paper imagines a fragmented, heterogeneous ‘local’, which undermines old orthodoxies and refuses new ones (de Certeau & Giard 138). It addresses two examples from 1980s Australian and New Zealand game history which demonstrate a deep imbrication of local and global factors, thus exceeding most current understandings of ‘local game history’. Australian game developer, Beam Software – with its publishing arm, Melbourne House, headquartered in the U.K. – had a thoroughly international outlook, selling large numbers of hit games into Europe. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s import licensing rules forced importers of the early 1980s to manufacture a percentage of their products locally. This turned Grandstand Electronics – up to that point, a U.K. sales-focused company – into a (part)manufacturer of consoles, shooting plastics, building power supplies, and running a production line in Auckland to assemble Asian-sourced componentry for their “Made in New Zealand” range of tabletops. The mixed lineage of these game objects demonstrates heterodox local game histories. Not only do Beam and Grandstand demonstrate that “local production” can mean a range of things in this era (Swalwell & Davidson, forthcoming); they also show that genealogical research from the periphery disturbs what we thought we knew about the ‘centre’.
Graeme Kirkpatrick is Professor in Media Arts, Aesthetics and Narration at the University of Skövde, Sweden. His Aesthetic Theory and the Video Game (2011) was recently listed by Edge magazine as one that should be in every gamer’s library, while his Computer Games and the Social Imaginary (2013) was described in New Media & Society as ‘one of the finest books to date on digital games’. His first book, Critical Technology (2004), won the 2005 Philip Abrams Memorial Prize from the British Sociological Association.
Melanie Swalwell is an ARC Future Fellow and Associate Professor in the Screen and Media Department at Flinders University. She is the author of many chapters and articles on the histories of digital games, and co-editor of The Pleasures of Computer Gaming: Essays on cultural history, theory and aesthetics (McFarland, 2008). Her game history research has also been presented in non-traditional formats, such as the scholarly interactive “Cast-offs from the Golden Age” (Vectors, 2006) and the photographic exhibition “More than a Craze” (2010). Melanie is Project Leader of “Play It Again”, which in conjunction with its partners — the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, the Berlin Computerspiele Museum — is researching the history and preservation of 1980s digital games in New Zealand and Australia. She is currently writing a book on 1980s homebrew gaming.