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“Welcoming All Gods and Embracing All Places”: Computer Games As Constitutively Transcendent of the Local

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Part of the Palgrave Games in Context book series (PAGCON)

Abstract

This chapter argues that computer games only became computer games, emerging from a disparate set of undesignated technical and playful practices, when they entered a global network of associations. This chapter traces this history through reference to a study of 1980s magazines and an interview with the designer of Uridium, a game that appears in the archive at a crucial turning point in the development of the form. Combining sociological and aesthetic analyses, the argument identifies the criteriological emergence of ‘gameplay’ in the middle of the 1980s with the production of a new kind of space, which is best understood as involving a brush with (impossible) reverse perspective. Viewed in this way, gameplay is a series of escapes, from places in impossible space. This experience is presented as the appearance of a new, faltering mode of subjectivation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Indeed, it is often no longer clear what technology is or where its limits lie (Kirkpatrick 2020).

  2. 2.

    It’s worth emphasizing this point because other have erroneously suggested that I over-concentrate on first occurrences (Wade and Webber 2016: 5). Similarly, while ‘gameplay’ becomes more frequent in the UK magazines after 1984–5, this is not when it was ‘invented’, as I’ve pointed out: ‘the term appears in early magazines, including the US magazine Electronic Games’ (Kirkpatrick 2015: 59).

  3. 3.

    This kind of initiative was not unique to Britain: in Poland, for example, the government also manufactured its own computer for schools, the Meritum, with similar ideological investments (Kirkpatrick 2007) and similar stories can be told from elsewhere at this time—see this volume.

  4. 4.

    The BBC Micro also had a relatively large 32 K of RAM and sold for between £335–£399, much more than a TV gaming system.

  5. 5.

    Even established game makers often worked in informal, domestic settings well into the 1980s.

  6. 6.

    A number of works in the sociology of art have done this, for example, Lydia Goehr (2007) shows that classical music was effectively invented around 1800 and this was related to changes to documentation, especially performance program notes; Nick Crossley (2014) highlights the role of fanzines in lighting up punk’s network-in-formation; Lynne Garofola (1999) shows how modern dance owes its status as an art form to Sergei Diaghilev’s activities as a promoter, who made extensive use of visual and written materials to separate it from its previous milieu and sell it to new audiences as a high art, and Andre Gaudreault and Philippe Marion (2006) highlight the role of popular publications in what they call the cultural ‘second birth’ of cinema, which occurred some years after its first, technical arrival.

  7. 7.

    My evidence for this is anecdotal—more than one of my former colleagues at the University of Northumbria remembered playing such a game but I have been unable to locate it.

  8. 8.

    One consequence of the shift described here is the demise of adventure games, studied in detail by V. M. Karhulahti (2015).

  9. 9.

    Ads for Imagine software (CVG 21 July 1983, p.156); Postern software (CVG 21 July 1983, p. 59); and Richard Shepherd (CVG 23 September 1983, p. 60–61), respectively.

  10. 10.

    The classic illustration can be found in Esquire magazine April 1966 and in Edgerton (1975: 13).

  11. 11.

    Previously, I have suggested understanding this in terms of Pierre Bourdieu’s (1995) idea of habitus but this idea now seems a bit too passive.

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Kirkpatrick, G. (2021). “Welcoming All Gods and Embracing All Places”: Computer Games As Constitutively Transcendent of the Local. In: Swalwell, M. (eds) Game History and the Local. Palgrave Games in Context. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-66422-0_11

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