In historian Carly Kocurek’s recent American Journal of Play article “Ronnie, Millie, Lila—Women’s History for Games: A Manifesto and a Way Forward,” she reveals the hidden histories of three women who played important, but mostly forgotten, roles in video game history.
Reading reports about some retail store closings, it’s hard to ignore that many of us often prefer shopping online with millions of products at our fingertips to navigating a shopping cart through the aisles of our local retailers. As a historian with an interest in consumer culture and as someone who spent countless hours of my childhood playing the latest Nintendo Entertainment System games on a demonstration kiosk at our local K-Mart, it’s difficult to image a world without the striking visual displays and merchandising that have played such an important role in selling products in retail settings. Before the 1880s, few businesses arranged products or store spaces to appeal to shoppers. By the early 20th century, however, following the lead of Philadelphia merchant John Wannamaker and other merchandising pioneers, retailers of all kinds re-decorated their stores using glass cases, mirrors, color schemes, better lighting, interior displays, and show windows to entice their customers. And these displays have been part of retail settings ever since. Not surprisingly, visual merchandising (or the presentation of goods and products in order to attract customers) played an important role in selling home video games from the beginning.
As I stood outside The Strong’s new permanent Pinball Playfields exhibit, I couldn’t help but see and overhear our guests’ reactions to the flashing lights and distinct pops and thumps of the pinball machines. “Pinball! Yes!” I heard someone cheer.