Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Smartbomb book reading & (ahem) the sky is falling!

There was a book reading at University bookstore in Bellevue tonight for Smartbomb by Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby. Ed Fries is one of the people covered in the book and was also there for the reading and Q&A. I figured I'd go because there might be some good conversation to be had and it's a ten minute drive from home.

First off, I envy those people that have photographic face/name memories. I met Ed Fries something like 6 or 8 months ago, pre-lasik, in a meeting for an hour, and he remembered my name. I was impressed. Anyhoo.

So, there was some interesting conversation about the (gag) 'arrival' of games into mainstream culture over the past few years, the rock star phenomena (two words, not capitalized), and other such things.

I asked why the book focused mainly on the past decade, and not on the earlier rise and fall(s) of the industry (arcade, 1st wave home console & computer, etc). They said they did discuss it a bit in the first chapter, but that that first wave didn't have the same kind of culture impact that games are having today. I thought they skirted the question, since that first wave definitely impacted pop culture. Anyone that has seen a tuxedo-clad Bond wandering between the Pacman and Galaxian machines in Never Say Never Again can tell you that! (Did people ever wear tuxedos and evening gowns to arcades? :-)

Then there was other conversation, and I bought a book to be polite and because I have an addiction to buying books.

On the way home, I was thinking more about the 'first era' thing. I'm sure I'm not the first to say it but I beleive there are a huge number of parallels between our industry today and the state of the industry at that time. e.g.

  • A variety of innovative games giving way to an abundance of clones within established mega-genres (then: Mortal combat clones, 2D scrolling shooters, racing games; today: FPS, RTS, 3D fighters...)
  • Consolidation lead to market dominance of a few major vendors (then: Namco, Taito, Williams on the HW front, today Sony & MS on the HW front; a similar then/now story for publishers)
  • Most importantly, and related to the first point: How many of you reading this ('cept for the young'uns) STOPPED going to arcades around that time? Now ask yourself this: Have you recently found yourself asking friends "played anything good lately?" and not getting encouraging answers? Are you staying home from the store? I know I am. Perhaps I'm the exception?

I'm not saying that I beleive another arcade-industry or early-console-industry style crash is on the horizon. I'm actually not a beleiver in the "innovation is dead" rant-du-jour that Costikiyan and co have made de rigeur as of late.

However, I do beleive there's risk there. I do think it's worth asking what happens if either this Xmas or next, people look at the games on their next-gen consoles and say "hmm... kinda looks the same. don't think I'll bother".

Again, I don't think the risk is high that this is going to happen. I *do* think, though, that like any risk, we should ask ourselves "...what if?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'm sorry you felt we 'skirted' the question. here's another answer--the fact is that there are plenty well-written and researched histories of the early gaming history. we were specifically not interested in doing a history but instead to describe the 'current' lay of the land. Thus, extensive analysis of the 'golden age, while informative and instructive to the current situation, was not really what we were trying to accomplish with Smartbomb.

That said, there is a great deal in the book about not only higgenbotham, russell, and bushnell but also about the tabletop gaming culture that came to have such a lasting influence on videogames.

Also, while you may find it a 'yawner' to claim that videogames have 'arrived', the fact is that even during the last five years the level of cultural penetration by videogames has grown exponentially. So, while we acknowledge your point about Bond, we really don't think that either the magnitude or nature of that impact is even comparable to what games are achieving only now.


Aaron Ruby