We're playing videogames

We’re playing videogames

Transmedia projects have a lot in common and can even encompass video games. It is worth exploring the history of video games in order to understand how audiences might expect to interact with a transmedia project. In the BBC documentary ‘How video games changed the world’ Charlie Brooker lists 25 video games that made a substantial impact on society.

He starts with Pong, not because it was the first video game but because it was the first video game to go ‘mainstream’ and be appreciated outside of ‘geek culture’. Pong was able to be widely distributed as microchips essential to computing became cheaper and smaller (see Moore’s law). This is an example of the agency of technology. The computing systems very capabilities not only effected the access and distribution of the game but its mechanics and aesthetics also. The ‘ball’ in pong was in fact square because the graphics and screen technology at the time was unable to produce a round ball. The games designers were not physically able to produce a round ball. This is worth keeping in mind in transmedia projects that technology has certain limits. They should be incorporated in its conception.

Pong also introduced the idea of audience agency to the home. People could sit on their couch and move a figure on the screen. In an era before VHS or DVD were commonplace, this control over home entertainment was apparently amazing. The rise of the home computer conflated this as people were able to ‘code’ their own video games. This early forerunner to user generated content (UGC) saw video game code being printed, line by line, in magazines so that people could make the games at home. Entertainment now allowed people to not only control what content appeared on their television, but create it.

Video game history is useful for transmedia projects as a reminder that the medium has an effect on what can be produced. It also exhibits a certain history of audience agency with regards to computers and games.