As a young child, I loved to climb the stairs of my aunt and uncle’s house to my cousin’s room filled with model airplanes he had assembled. Spitfires, Zeros, Messerchmitts, and B-17 Fighting Fortresses lined the shelves, parked on bureaus, and hung suspended from the ceiling. I still remember how I felt as I gazed in wonder at the formations of planes flying overhead.
Video games have fundamentally changed our patterns of play, learning, and social interaction, and researchers are increasingly examining the history of video games in order to explain this evolution.
Sometimes we play to compete, to engage in what the play scholar Johan Huizinga termed agon, or competition. That is why we love athletic contests. And yet many other types of play don’t prioritize competition. Instead they reward the silly and the nonsensical. Recently, watching two of my sons tussling reminded me that tickling contests, humorous ripostes, pun-making....all look for the reward of a smile rather than the thrill of victory.
Chuck E. Cheese play set—you supply the video games
Recently, Minecraft fever struck my house. All four of my children now play the game and one Saturday morning my kids showed me the houses, sheep farms, mines, and other creations they built in the game using blocks they mined or harvested from stone, ore, wood, or other materials. The buildings were creative, beautiful, and strong enough to survive late night monster attacks.
Temple Run, an iPhone game, was recently the rage at my son’s school, so he downloaded it to my phone. It’s a basic survival game in which the player, an explorer, flees with the idol from a jungle temple. The game rewards quick decisions as the player tries to stay on the path and jump or slide under obstacles while attempting to outrun a pack of man-eating monkeys. The monkeys always win, but it’s a lot of fun trying to escape.
We do! Recently, news reports cited as wasteful spending a $113,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games to preserve video games. We disagree. We believe video games not only are the most dynamic, exciting, and innovative form of media today but also an important form of play and a driver of cultural change.
The more than 140 arcade cabinets ICHEG owns are key components of our tens of thousands of video games and related artifacts.
One of my favorite games in ICHEG’s collection is Atari’s 1976 arcade classic Breakout, an elegant, one-player elaboration of Pong. Players move a paddle side-to-side to keep a bouncing ball in play long enough to knock down multicolored layers of bricks. A tone sounds each time a ball strikes a brick. The ball speeds up with each successive layer of bricks, making it harder and harder to hit. Breakout is a seductive game, easy to learn, difficult to master.