I have requested of each author that they go beyond the charting of local case studies to critically reflect on ‘the local’, articulating the wider significance or role being accorded locale/location/locatedness. This means that we have eleven substantive contributions to a discourse on the significance of locality in game history, and the implications for game history as a field.
We begin with Jaroslav Švelch’s discussion of homebrew games whose very content was intimately connected to the places where their authors lived and worked, in the Czechoslovakia of the 1980s–1990s. Švelch terms these ‘hyper-local’ games, reading them in terms of Michel de Certeau’s concept of spatial tactics and the Situationist practice of derive
, drawing attention to the significance of power relations and participation of the Czechoslovak youth who created them. This chapter constitutes a companion piece to his monograph, Gaming the Iron Curtain
Local conditions can make for some extreme variations, and the point is made well in Maria B. Garda and Paweł Grabarczyk’s search for the last game published on tape cassette in Poland. Eschewing the concern with origins and firstness, they elegantly demonstrate the extent to which local structural factors make a difference in the case of Polish software published on tape. They use data scraped from Mobygames to generate a chart which shows that while cassette tape usage peaks worldwide in the 1980s, the 8-bit tape era doesn’t reach its peak in Poland until around 1993. Inspired by this data, Garda and Grabarczyk instead go in search of the ‘last’ cassette. They find that “most probably the last 8-bit game to be published on cassette was Tekblast” (Sikor Soft 1998). While their interest is in the first commercial lifecycle of tape, they observe that this overlaps with the ascent of retrogaming internationally.
Ulf Sandqvist’s contribution is a twenty-year longitudinal study of the development of the Swedish game industry, between 1990 and 2010. Using the dataset collected by Statistics Sweden and supplementing these with developer interviews, he paints a picture of those working in the industry. The quantitative approach paints a fascinating picture of the development of the industry and its change over time, while the interviews reveal the humble beginnings of the industry in the microcomputing period and demoscene, and its increasing professionalisation.
As a part of a wider Finnish gaming memories project, Jaakko Suominen and Anna Sivula provide an analysis of memories of playing Nintendo consoles, with an emphasis on place. Drawing on the idea of personal media histories or ‘technobiographies’ (Kennedy), they argue that memories are not only attached to social networks, artefacts, and time, but also attached to particular places. They take us through people’s responses to where they played and theorise the significance of these spaces, including vividly remembered spaces for play–from domestic spaces, players’ own or friends or family–to non-domestic spaces including places of purchase and public spaces, such as the play rooms on ferries between Finland and Sweden. Their chapter shows that it is possible to think of locality in game history in ways other than in reference to specific geographical regions or states. As they argue, “When we talk about ‘local game histories,’ we have to critically examine the concept of place itself as well as the meanings attached to given places”.
Whilst the game history of the U.S. has often been treated as a default, many U.S. scholars have been working to complexify game history, ensuring their findings have specificity and acknowledging the situatedness of their research. Laine Nooney has been conducting very located research in Oakhurst, California, where the game development company Sierra Online set up in the 1980s. Nooney pushes back against the mainstream universalising game history, embracing the local and regional in her research and noting that all game historians benefit by awakening sensitivity to how geography and location inflect the mechanics of game history.
Nooney presents a personal case study on the issue of the local in video game history, travelling to conduct interviews for the Sierra On-Line project, and offering the concept of regionalism as a tool with which to frame and think the local in U.S. game history.
While the rise of a local emphasis in game history has often been marked by a focus on specific places and reception, Michael Borthwick and Melanie Swalwell’s chapter shows that the local need not be understood as sharply contrasting with the non-local. Though user groups are usually taken to be the epitome of locality, the newsletters of groups dedicated to the Exidy Sorcerer demonstrate that the footprints of some went well beyond the local. Thanks to a remarkable archive of newsletters that Borthwick has assembled, the chapter charts how membership lists connected local users and enabled them to reach a global audience. The chapter not only documents the many trans-local connections that existed in the early microcomputer period; the newsletter archive also supports some ‘cross-local’ observations as to the reception of this specific early microcomputer by hobbyists.
The next three chapters are explicitly concerned with debates about the local and global. John Vanderhoef is not undertaking historical work per se, but his work usefully speaks to historical work, and vice versa. Though game production always happens somewhere, the game product need not reflect the culture of the location(s) in which it was developed, as Vanderhoef remind us in his study of the erasure of national markers in indie games made in Poland. Vanderhoef draws on scholarship in national cinemas as well as extending Felan Parker and Jennifer Jenson’s conception of “transnational game identities” (Parker and Jenson 2017) as identities that swivel between identification with the hyper-local and the global, through an examination of Polish indie games and their developers since the Polish industry’s formalisation in the 1990s. The Polish developers he’s interviewed position their games as global rather than local products, as “cultural[ly] placeless”. Examining the ways the Polish video game industry navigated between locally specific tastes and a transnational appeal over the course of its emergence as a formal node in the global games industry illustrates the ongoing tension between the local and the trans-local, the national and the transnational.
From Vanderhoef’s argument that “The discourse on the national has always been in conversation with the discourse on the transnational”, we pivot to another chapter where local and non-local are in tension, Stephen Mandiberg’s analysis of video game localisation, provocatively titled “Video Games Have Never Been Global”. Despite industry rhetoric which sees games as global and localisation as just a minor thing that helps games along in different markets, Mandiberg argues that “localization is first and foremost about making something local into something that can be global, not the other way around”. Bringing insights from translation studies to consider the history of game localisation, Mandiberg deploys this history to present a different view on the contemporary games industry. He argues that the global video game industry of the 2010s, which sells games over borders and between languages as ‘globally’ playable products, exists through industry practices of localisation.
From there, Graeme Kirkpatrick’s contribution continues the line of argument he’s been making about the mid-1980s constituting a watershed in game history in the U.K. (Kirkpatrick 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017). In this chapter, Kirkpatrick draws on the work of philosophers and sociologists Bruno Latour, Henri Lefebvre, and Alain Badiou, to craft an argument attending to the localness and globalness of digital games. He argues that while it was meaningful to speak of computer gaming culture as local in the early period—the localness of ads, high score claims, where players hailed from, and even themes and storylines—this changed in the mid-1980s. Kirkpatrick calls the games and gaming devices of the 1970s and early 1980s ‘proto-games’, in that they existed in a technical and entertainment milieu in which they were a local, limited, and disparate phenomena. For Kirkpatrick, it wasn’t until the mid-part of the decade that games properly came into being, doing something new. Then there was an ‘evental transformation’ and a new ‘spatialising practice’ that coincided with a new discourse around gameplay, in which—he claims—games transcended the local.
Chapters up to this point have dealt with games past and the present state of the industry, assessing where a game history concerned with the local stands at the present moment. Swalwell’s chapter takes off in a different direction, reflecting both on where game history has come from and eyeing the future. Functioning as a coda of sorts and arguing that the local needs to be critically situated, Swalwell poses several questions key for ‘local’ game history: how should the localness of game history be conceived? What might the critical potential of locality be for computer and game histories? And what comes after the very necessary attention to local specificity? She draws on debates about microhistory to suggest joining micro and macro perspectives into more connected histories, and points to specific studies where game historians are beginning to do just this, creating more connected histories. Swalwell argues that such game histories are heterodox, in that they not only counter orthodox game history but also disturb what we thought we knew about the ‘centre’.
Game history is one of the most vital and exciting fields in Game Studies at present. It is time to develop a rigorous and critical discussion about what the significance of a local framework is for game history and to map out future directions. This anthology is intended to open such a dialogue and to contribute to the further maturation of the field.