July 2014

From the Director of ICHEG

Dear ICHEG Friends and Supporters,

In 2009, when we launched The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG), we dreamed of building a world-class repository for the preservation and interpretation of the history of video games and their impact on the way we play, live, and relate to each other. Thanks to the help of many of you we’ve come a long way.

Over the last five years our collection of video games and related artifacts has grown to more than 55,000 items, plus extensive archival collections from key companies and individuals in the history of the industry. International research scholars have traveled to the museum to use these materials, and the collections have also formed the basis for museum exhibits such as eGameRevolution, Atari by Design, , and Pinball Playfields, which have been enjoyed by the more than 2.5 million guests to the museum since 2010. Further, we’ve launched important work to preserve the history of video games through a variety of efforts that range from the hiring of a full-time arcade game engineer to a multi-year effort, sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, to capture videos of the play of thousands of games.

This new, periodic e-newsletter keeps friends and supporters updated about ICHEG’s accelerating activities. We welcome you to share the e-newsletter, encourage others to subscribe, and send us your questions, thoughts, or suggestions. Should you prefer not to receive the e-newsletter, simply unsubscribe at the bottom of the email. Like our ICHEG Facebook page to get frequent updates about new collections, happenings at ICHEG, and news (both serious and whimsical) about your favorite retro games.

So thank you again for the artifact donations you've made, the advice you've given, and the way you've helped spread the word about ICHEG. We look forward to what the next five years will bring!

Jon-Paul Dyson, PhD

Major New Additions to the Collections

In recent months, The Strong's collections have grown significantly. Some notable new additions include:

  • Doug Carlston, computer games pioneer and founder of Brøderbund Software, Inc., donated a collection of games, consumer software, and corporate records that document the history of the company and the development of the computer games industry in the 1980s and 1990s.

  • A massive assemblage of original artwork, design notes, schematics, game source code, corporate records, and one-of-a-kind artifacts—including the unreleased arcade game “Maze Invaders”—that chronicles the history of Atari’s coin-operated video game and pinball divisions from 1972 to 1999 was added to The Strong's collection in April.

  • Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI) founder Joe Billings donated documents, catalogs, and business records chronicling 15 years of SSI history in addition to a master copy of the code for Computer Bismark and a copy of the computer code for Tank (unpublished), the first game Billings ever wrote.

ICHEG encourages inquiries from individuals and organizations that have important electronic game related materials that merit a permanent home where they can help inform present and future generations about the history of electronic games, how they started and evolved, and the impact they have on society.
To inquire about donating games, platforms, or other materials, please contact Jon-Paul Dyson at jpdyson@museumofplay.org.

ICHEG Produces Arcade-Inspired Museum Exhibits

Over the past two years, The Strong has preserved pinball’s past by expanding its collection to more than 50 historic pinball machines—adding early “pin games” (flipperless predecessors to pinball machines) and electromechanical and “solid state” (electronic) pinball machines to The Strong’s unparalleled collection of playthings. These are part of a growing collection of more than 200 classic arcade machines.

Through September 7, The Strong is showcasing some of these machines and related materials in Boardwalk Arcade and Pinball Playfields, summer exhibits produced by the International Center for the History of Electronic Games that celebrate the history of arcade and pinball machines


Artifact Spotlight: World’s Fair Jigsaw Pinball Machine

How did pinball manufacturers convince someone to pay to play their games? During the Great Depression, when money was tight, future juke box king David Rockola’s 1933 World’s Fair Jigsaw machine did it by capitalizing on Americans’ contemporary craze for jigsaw puzzles and their fascination with the sights and sounds of the wildly popular Chicago Centennial Exposition. Pinball manufacturers have spurred sales by borrowing popular cultural trends and themes ever since. The game arrived at The Strong as part of an acquisition of 7,000 historic jigsaw puzzles assembled by author and collector Anne D. Williams. View online collections.

ICHEG Welcomes Distinguished Guests and Researchers

ICHEG welcomed researchers, documentarians, and video game luminaries from around the world in recent months:

  • Video game designer Warren Spector and University of Southern California game design professor Tracy Fullerton toured The Strong’s collections while in town during separate trips to speak to students at Rochester Institute of Technology.

  • A crew from AREA 5 in San Francisco spent two days interviewing ICHEG staff and filming The Strong’s electronic games collection for use in a six-part documentary series.

  • Fellowship recipients Chris Darby from Seton Hall University, Rebecca Hernandez-Gerber from New York University, and Robert Guyker Jr. from Pacifica Graduate Institute of California researched video game related topics to inform dissertations and books.

  • Carl Therrien and Martin Picard from the University of Montreal studied The Strong’s Japanese video game collection with a focus on the PC Engine console.

  • Jim Leonard, founder of Moby Games, and Jason Scott, leader in digital preservation for the Internet Archive, consulted with ICHEG staff on a video capture project.

Spotlight on Staff: Arcade Video Game Conservation Engineer John Villard

John Villard joined The Strong in 2010 as its arcade video game conservation engineer. He has a degree in electrical engineering and owned a gaming store for more than 10 years. Now he conserves and repairs the hundreds of arcade video game and pinball machines in the museum’s collections.

What do you like best about your job?

The museum’s collection includes old and rare games for use in displays only, but it also includes many machines that we allow guests to play. I most enjoy watching children and adults playing the games I've worked so hard to maintain and make safe and enjoyable.

What are some of the challenges of maintaining these machines?

It can be difficult to conserve and preserve these decades-old artifacts, especially when vintage parts are scarce.  For example, raster monitors used in retro arcade games are no longer manufactured.  I need to repair the original components or hunt down reproduction parts or ones taken from old games which were broken down for parts before being discarded.

It can also be hard to make a game operate properly, accurately, and smoothly. There can be many issues in the control inputs, audio and visual outputs, and hardware and software. I strive to make it so that guests can have the same game experience as people that played these games decades ago. 

What’s the rarest machine that you’ve worked on?

I’ve had the privilege of working on “Maze Invaders,” which Atari never released. The museum recently acquired one of only two known prototypes in the world.

What’s your favorite game?

I like Qbert. The rules are simple to understand, and gameplay requires quick decision making to outsmart the Uggs.

ICHEG Out and About: A Selection of Recent Activities

In February, Jeremy Saucier, assistant director for ICHEG, attended the Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain (DICE) Summit in Las Vegas. Jon-Paul Dyson, Director of ICHEG, traveled to Kyoto, Japan, in March to speak at Game Studies on the Edge, an international conference on global digital game preservation efforts. Also in March, Dyson and Saucier represented The Strong at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife by Raiford Guins (MIT Press) featured ICHEG extensively, including game preservation insights from director Jon-Paul Dyson.

ICHEG in the News

Internships Available

Are you a student—or do you know a student—interested in video game history? The Strong offers two unpaid, competitive internship opportunities with its International Center for the History of Electronic Games: Digital Game and Media Preservation and Web Essay Writing and Digital History.

Electronic Game Book Reviews

The Strong’s American Journal of Play—a peer reviewed and interdisciplinary publication—regularly includes reviews of books about electronic games. Recent reviews include Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming by T. L. Taylor and Playing Along: Digital Games, YouTube, and Virtual Performance by Kiri Miller.

Recent CHEGheads Blogs

The CHEGheads Blog explores the past, present, and future of electronic games. New blogs are posted several times each month. Here are some recent posts: