To bring this back to game history, several points are salient. The micro/macro debate is not an exact fit for game history, but there are some insights we can consider as provocations. Levi’s observation about generalising questions rather than answers seems apposite. And the single case study issue is worth acknowledging as a challenge. In what remains, I want to expand the discussion a little to draw on a perspective from the cognate area of computer history, before turning to some exemplars from current work that suggest ways in which ‘local’ game history might be able to move towards more connected histories.
First, the micro/macro question: in hindsight, I realise that I have—almost intuitively—been searching for larger contexts in which to situate my New Zealand research for many years. As already mentioned, I have long held that it is not particularly helpful to treat the entry of specific variant locales in game history—or digitality, more generally—as just a phenomenon of the local. But this is to state the matter negatively. We need to turn the proposition around: to state positively what divergent case studies concerned with locality make possible to think and theorise in game history, generalising our questions—after Levi.
The issue of getting beyond single case studies is one on which Corinna Schlombs has previously reflected in relation to the historiography of digital computing, which faces some similar challenges to game history. In computer history, Schlombs writes, there is a default North American perspective which is perceived as the standard that all other national histories follow. In her 2006 Think Piece, ‘Toward International Computing History’, Schlombs writes that there are ‘formidable barriers’ which make international historical research expensive and time consuming (Schlombs 2006). For Schlombs, the main ones are “language differences, access to archival and other sources, and the demands of mastering multiple national histories” (108). She recognises that it is too hard for one scholar to be across everything, and her three suggestions for ways forward include: (1) writing local histories of computing in countries other than the USA; (2) undertaking comparative studies (helpful for “derail[ing] technological or economic determinist arguments by demonstrating how social, political, and cultural factors shape technology”); and (3) studying interactions between countries. This, she notes, has still tended to rely on the nation state as the unit of analysis, but it need not be the case. “By adjusting the scale of analysis, historians can ask new questions about the social, economic, and cultural context of computing” (Schlombs 2006, 107).
Getting beyond single case studies in game history presents a similar difficulty. Yet despite the challenge, I sense that it is something that many historians concerned with locality are already doing, at least to an extent. I have been deliberating for some time as to whether doing ‘local’ game history actually means ‘comparative game history’. The answer must be a definitive ‘yes’. A game historian with a local focus is expected to articulate how their local case study compares to historical accounts from the USA, UK, or Japan to make the significance clear to non-local audiences, a burden not demanded of scholars from the ‘centre’. I have been fortunate to be able to immerse myself in two surprisingly different local game history contexts (Australia and New Zealand), placing these in international context. However, I accept that this is relatively straightforward—at least as regards the USA and UK—given no extra language skills are required. Whilst recognising that this expectation of comparative competence is not evenly shared at present, I agree with Wolf that a comparative dimension is likely to be important in the next phase of game historiography (2015, 12).
One strategy that Schlombs surprisingly doesn’t mention for getting beyond the single case studies problem—and around the language challenge—is collaboration. For instance, I am engaged in a collaboration with Letícia Perani to examine the operation in New Zealand and Brazil of Taito, the company behind that most iconic ‘Japanese’ game, ‘Space Invaders’. This was prompted by an ex-Taito-tronics programmer telling me:
Taito Brazil had a large number of “Galaxian” boards, so pretty much the next phase up from “Space Invaders”, and what we did in the R&D department in Taito New Zealand was to convert—to rewrite a couple of the classics of the time—to run on “Galaxian” hardware, because again, at the time pretty much every new game came out with a new set of PCBs.
The programmer’s recollection suggests that there are whole unexplored histories that the New Zealand material provides a way into. A 1975 advertisement Perani discovered in Cash Box indicates that Taito had offices in several locations around the world besides Tokyo (Chicago, Antwerp, Sao Paulo, Sydney), in the pre-digital era when it sold and leased a range of coin-op machines (Taito 1975). While this could be considered in terms of an early instance of a global company, at the moment we are focusing on the trans-local connections between New Zealand and Brazil. Co-authoring with Perani means that the product of our research will be shaped by our respective intimate knowledges of the local social and cultural contexts, as well as circumventing the challenges each would face undertaking research in another country (in my case, in Portuguese). Collaboration is thus another strategy for dealing with the single case study problem.
To extend on this point, I am impressed by the network of European scholars who are managing to effectively pool their knowledge through engagement with each other’s research: the existence of several researchers working on Central and Eastern European game histories—helped by a conference series, the Central and Eastern European Game Studies (CEEGS) conference—is building a rich set of interrelations and knowledge that enhances everyone’s work, a sort of a collaboration by stealth. While it is hard to periodise accurately (without knowing how much research exists in languages other than English), with roughly fifteen years of critical game historical work behind us, generalisations—beyond single case studies—are starting to become possible in some regions. With a critical mass of game historians interested in the local—distributed around the globe and networkedFootnote 2—the barriers to developing more connected histories are lower than they ever have been.
Drawing another example from computer history, Petri Paju and Thomas Haigh’s recent article on IBM in Finland (2018) further illustrates the point. “The history of IBM”—they argue—“is the sum of a set of intertwined narratives taking place on national, regional, and international levels” (5). Paju and Haigh note that while the story of a particular international subsidiary might usually be assumed to be of primarily local interest—as a footnote to the American experience—they aim to demonstrate to business historians the usefulness of approaching the stories of a large multinational corporation from its peripheries (4, 26). The Finnish account is rich with detail not only about IBM’s interrelation with Finnish national history, but also the involvement of the local office in pan-European activities, sales to the Soviet Union, and exchange with IBM’s ‘international’ culture of sales, management, and research. Paju and Haigh suggest their account demonstrates the value of “studying the development of intermediate levels of exchange and identity, between national subsidiary and global corporation” (27).
The questions some game history scholars are asking also seem to be heading towards convergence—as Levi suggests—particularly in research related to users across multiple local sites (Borthwick and Swalwell, this volume) and tracking software distribution (Wasiak 2014; Albert 2020). Asking similar questions will make it simpler to relate the idiosyncratic histories of various elsewheres to other locales and better known histories. Some are researching multiple locations by stealth. While user group newsletters and magazines have long been recognised as rich historical sources, Borthwick’s archive of Sorcerer user group newsletters from three continents and five countries makes possible a different set of research questions than do such sources from a single place, which have more usually been studied. Gleb Albert is also conducting what is effectively multi-site research in relation to ‘crackers’ and informal software distribution. As he summarises, a range of developments in microcomputer reception:
have been researched in case studies over the last decade. However, in order to analyse how these developments influenced each other, it might be productive to do it in a case study that takes a focus on transnational entanglements. After all, home computerisation did not take place simultaneously all over the globe, but rather it was a process that developed (and, on a global scale, is still developing) for several decades, and its manifestations in particular countries were always bound to developments and events occurring outside the respective countries’ borders, as the triumphant march of the home computer took place against the backdrop both of a new wave of economical globalisation and massive changes in world politics. (Albert 2020)
Albert writes that the cracking scene “acted transnationally from the beginning. However, it was not ‘global’ in any meaningful sense”. He sets out to undertake an examination of the contacts between the ‘centre’—which he designates as those countries which constituted core regions in the cracking scene (USA, Canada, Scandinavia, Finland the Benelux state, Great Britain, West Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland) —and the ‘peripheries’—defined as a range of regions which lacked either technical know how or the access to international software distribution, to get their hands on new software. ‘Transnational entanglements’ is a wonderfully rich concept, and Albert’s investigations are even more appreciated because of his “bias towards the developments in Eastern Europe due to the availability of sources and my knowledge of languages”, though he also “strives to employ sources from other parts of the world, particularly Latin America and the Middle East, insofar as they are available” (Albert 2020). On the question of sources’ availability, Albert’s initiative to gather the material traces of the demoscene in the online archive ‘Got Papers?’ is also significant here. Crowd-sourcing the remains of the culture of physically posting disks around the world and hosting this in a repository available online mean that the potential extent of the coverage is considerable, evidenced by the fact that a scholar from Switzerland (with a bias to Eastern Europe) can point to historic correspondence received from Adelaide—a city in Australia—and suggest a collaboration. The ‘Got Papers?’ archive offers a way of locating informants in a particular country who may be difficult to find (many are not open about belonging to the scene because of the questionable legal status of some of its activities). Ultimately, the archive will make it possible to get a much clearer picture of just how entangled users were, transnationally, in the point-to-point snail mail era (Albert n.d.). These are analyses on a simultaneously micro and macro scale. We have barely scratched the surface of the inter-relations between different locales, but such analyses provide encouraging evidence that game history is now moving beyond just the granular, micro scale to more connected histories.