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Charlie Chaplin Other category

Title screen from Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin was more than the actor we remember him as. He was a filmmaker too, and he produced and directed most of his own films. Charlie Chaplin, U.S. Gold and Canvas Software’s tribute to the silent film icon, puts you in his shoes on both sides of the camera. It’s a loving imitation of Chaplin, though the developers couldn’t figure out the right way to translate his style of comedy into a game, which has a ripple effect on the story about Chaplin it tries to tell. » Read more about Charlie Chaplin

Two odd Monopoly games in context Board category

Empty board from Monopoly (1991)

With so many new options for social board games in the past decade, a consensus seems to have emerged: Monopoly sucks.

Yet despite the reputation as a monotonous game that ruins friendships and parties, Monopoly has endured. It survives because, thanks to aggressive licensing and marketing by Parker Brothers and Hasbro, it can become whatever it wants. It can be rethemed to any hit movie or basically any topic. It can adapt itself into a card game, a TV show, or a fast food promotion. Monopoly has learned how to be everywhere.

Monopoly is a shape-shifter, and it takes on the form of whatever it changes into to stay alive. That’s true of the video game adaptations too. Nearly every North American game system since the 80s has had a version of Monopoly, each one a little different to fit the expectations of the platform and the era.

I want to focus on two older, weirder video game editions – a Macintosh version and a PlayStation version – and what they can tell us. Although these two don’t substantially alter the rules or the game itself, the unique ways they present the same board game, six years apart, can explain the changing contexts they were released in. » Read more about Two odd Monopoly games in context

The Devil Inside Shooter category

Title screen from The Devil Inside

If you watch cable TV on the west coast, you’re probably watching The Devil Inside, a live paranormal investigation show on the WWWL@ network. In a world of race-to-the-bottom reality programming, The Devil Inside is your chance to see real murder – ghost hunters killing zombies and demons, like a gory, supernatural episode of Cops, while the Los Angeles studio audience cheers them on. It’s the network’s biggest hit.

Plenty of movies, games, television shows, and other works of fiction deal with the idea of watching sensationalist depravity as entertainment. When The Devil Inside came out in 2000, the concept was newly relevant. Reality TV was exploding; Survivor and Big Brother would debut in America that year. Audiences demanded more even as they criticized it. It was ripe for parody.

The Devil Inside looks like it’s going in that direction at first. The television studio is decked out in ironic glitz and brassy theme music, like a pre-apocalyptic Hunger Games. But once it gets rolling, it reveals itself to be a dingy horror game, one that embraces the exploitation themes you’d think it was joking about. » Read more about The Devil Inside

Eyewitness Virtual Reality Earth Quest Educational categorySoftware category

Title screen from Eyewitness Virtual Reality Earth Quest

The educational TV show Eyewitness has an instantly memorable opening hook. The show is set in museum – not an ordinary museum, but a building where science and history literally come to life. Animals roam the halls, the exhibits defy gravity, and the computer-generated walls are a perfect, spotless shade of white. Eyewitness was based on a series of informational children’s books by Dorling Kindersley, and while the books had great pictures, on television, learning became a destination.

It makes so much sense to adapt Eyewitness into a computer program. CD-ROM adventure games in the mid-90s were playing with the idea of being physical places you could explore from a first-person perspective, and multimedia software was taking inspiration from that. The Eyewitness museum was a cool visual on the TV show, and now it could be a place you’d actually visit to learn about science. » Read more about Eyewitness Virtual Reality Earth Quest

Write your own history in the Lost Histories Jam! Blog category

This post is fairly late, but hopefully you still have an opportunity to participate in the Lost Histories Jam!

When we talk about the history of games, there tends to be a focus on famous milestone games, people, and companies. But gaming history is so much more than a list of greatest hits, and this week is a chance to fill in some of the gaps from our own experiences. From now through Saturday, February 16 [UPDATE: extended to Sunday],  Emilie Reed is running a writing jam about lost video game history, specifically personal histories, the ways that we’ve interacted with games that aren’t reflected in conventional stories of video game history. Quoting Reed:

Just think about it, what was something specific to the way that you played or experienced videogames that you feel like hardly anyone ever talks about? How can the community-based, experiential, specific, overlooked and personal enrich the common-knowledge history of videogames?

I’m extremely late posting this with only 3 1/2 days to go before the end of the writing jam, but that might be enough time for you to collect some thoughts about how your own experiences can inform the history of video games.

Even if you can’t enter, you can read along as folks add their entries to the Submissions page. I’ve already submitted mine, a rambling, stream-of-consciousness essay about the Mario fangame community where I spent my teenage years, viewed from the lens of a series of really bad games I helped make. It was awkward to write something so personal, but I think it’s worth opening a window to that and examining it.

Take some time on Saturday morning to write about something unique in your personal history with games and submit it to the writing jam! (I’m sure if you go over the deadline that’s okay!)

Despair Macintosh categoryOther category

Title screen from Despair

“What’s it like to be a jealous god?” That’s the advice you’re given on how to play Despair, a nihilistic software toy by Lloyd Burchill meant to “[help] you vent some steam.” Basically, you kill a bunch of people using weird, supernatural powers.

As grim as that sounds, Despair is surprisingly mellow, maybe even bored by the violence. It feels like a product of 90s cynicism, where everything sucked but in a cool, fun way you could rebel against. » Read more about Despair

Stuffin the Briefcase Puzzle category

Screenshot from Stuffin the Briefcase

Stuffin the Briefcase makes a game out of an everyday activity – packing a bag.

Epyx included this game as part of the Getaway Entertainment 6 Pack, a collection of games for laptops in the early 90s. The Getaway pack has six small, simple games, like a dominoes game and a variation of Mastermind; they’re little timewasters intended for someone to play while traveling, something they’d kill time with on a train ride, the mobile games of their time. Stuffin the Briefcase, the most creative of the pack, is the only one that sticks with the travel theme. » Read more about Stuffin the Briefcase

Sentient Adventure category

Title screen from Sentient

When a solar flare hits the space station ICARUS, the entire place shakes. Your screen rattles back and forth. Alarms go off. Over the loudspeakers, a voice dispatches orders for the medical team. This disturbance repeats periodically in the background as the station careens closer to destruction. The crashing noises are a constant reminder: this disaster will continue to unfurl, no matter what else is going on.

Something is always happening in Sentient. The ICARUS has a full crew running around doing their jobs, and as part of your mission to save the space station, you can go anywhere in the facility and talk to any character about basically anything. It’s dizzying, and it can be hard to understand what you’re supposed to do with that radical freedom. » Read more about Sentient

Thanks for Super MAGFest 2019 Blog category

The panelists for "True Weird Stories from Video Game History" at Super MAGFest 2019. (from left to right) Me, Frank Cifaldi, Rachel Simone Weil, Kelsey Lewin

“True Weird Stories from Video Game History” at Super MAGFest 2019. (from left to right: me, Frank Cifaldi, Rachel Simone Weil, Kelsey Lewin) Photo credit: AtariSpot

It’s been a few days since Super MAGFest 2019. While I’d usually wait to talk about the event until panel videos are available, I want to recap the weekend while it’s still fresh.

This year was incredible. The video game history panel track was a huge success. We put on 11 unique, insightful panels on a wide range of topics, and they brought in big audiences. (Three panels, including our midnight panel on weird game history, were standing room only!) Our panelists represented a variety of perspectives, experiences, and interests, and I’m proud of the voices we showcased.

I was amazed by the synchronicity between the panels. They were in dialogue with each other – referencing shared ideas like “evocative objects,” preservation through play, and, surprisingly, the Nancy Drew games. They made a strong case for the importance of archives. They challenged the social and cultural assumptions behind how we tell the story of video games and questioned the value of nostalgia. One of our panelists literally challenged the audience to a fight. And the history topics fit neatly into the rest of the MAGES educational panel section; they felt right at home alongside psych research, musicology, and art history.

One goal with the panel track was to foster a gaming history community, where historians, archivists, and fans could interact and learn from each other. This was just one panel track over three days, but it felt like we started something. The response from both the panelists and audiences has been outstanding.

Thank you so much to everyone who attended, and thanks to all our panelists – Carly Kocurek, Kelsey Lewin, Anne Ladyem McDivitt, Kevin Bunch, Florencia Pierri, Michael Hughes, Rachel Simone Weil, Jeremy Parish, Bob Mackey, Chris Sims, Andrew Borman, Beth Lathrop, Campbell Parker, and Frank Cifaldi. It was a pleasure and an honor to meet and to work with all of you. Just typing out everyone’s names like that is ridiculous. This was an amazing event.

Videos of every panel should be available in the next few months as MAGFest gradually uploads everything.

UPDATE: The videos are up! I’ve embedded the playlist below, starting with Carly Kocurek’s panel.

The Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM Software category

Title screen from The Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM

The Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM is an animated travel brochure that doubles as memorabilia. It compiles a bunch of photos and facts from Disney’s Orlando theme park resort into an interactive map format – a way for families to learn about Disney World and, maybe, remember their trip later, like saving a paper map for a scrapbook. The CD-ROM doesn’t have information about planning a visit; it’s more like a sprightly, clickable ad for Disney rides, hotels, golf courses, and water parks. It’s a piece of the sort of celebratory self-mythmaking that Disney loves.

Decades later, we can call the Explorer CD-ROM a time capsule. Disney World today looks quite different from this version of the park from 1996. Yet the Explorer CD-ROM has always been a time capsule: even in 1996, this program became outdated quickly. In hindsight, it still has merit as a snapshot, an image of what Disney aspired for the parks to be at one specific point in time. » Read more about The Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM

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