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Preserving Our Videogame History

March 13, 2007


I'm also a cartoon in real life. If games really are a genuine art form, then the clock is ticking when it comes to preserving gaming's history for future generations. After all, the games industry only started in (arguably) 1968 (with the development of the Magnavox Odyssey), or 1962 (when Spacewar! was built for the PDP-1), or maybe 1958 (if you count Willy Higinbotham's Tennis for Two as the first videogame). People who kicked off the art form are still alive today, and some of the original systems are still around. Ralph Baer showed off the original 'Brown Box' prototype of the Odyssey at the Classic Gaming Expo as recently as 2000. He had to solder a couple pieces into place in order to get it working again, but it did actually play.

You can still play the original Spacewar! as well, if you visit the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. Unfortunately, there's only one PDP-1 machine left in the world. We've come awfully close to losing treasures like these altogether.

That's how it really went down.

Along those lines, check out this GameSpy article, or this post in the New York Times, talking about creating a "game canon," a list of the most influential games ever created. The idea comes about thanks to Henry Lowood, the curator of the History of Science and Technology Collections at Stanford University. He's been working on preserving videogame artifacts since 1998. Together, he and a committee of game creators, academics, and journalists have put together what they consider to be a definitive list of the most historically and culturally important videogames of all time:

Spacewar! (1962)
Star Raiders (1979)
Zork (1980)
Tetris (1985)
SimCity (1989)
Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990)
Civilization I/II (1991)
Doom (1993)
Warcraft series (beginning 1994)
Sensible World of Soccer (1994)

I'm dying to know what you think of the list. It would be impossible to come out with a list like this absent of controversy -- although I think this is a great starting point. Spacewar! absolutely needs to be on there. I could make the argument for Star Raiders, as well. Zork is a little trickier -- I love Zork with a passion but isn't Adventure more significant as it started the genre?

Super Mario Bros. 3 is obviously a watershed in the history of Mario, but I would argue that Mario 64 was a more important game. When games made the leap to true 3D worlds, it was Mario 64 that demonstrated how easy it could be to explore a 3D space -- I don't see Mario 3 making that kind of impact on the industry as a whole. The Warcraft series is also a curious choice. Good games, for sure, but the series neither pioneered the genre nor took it to wild new places. Dune II generally gets credit for establishing the modern real-time strategy format, although for cultural significance StarCraft created a worldwide phenomenon and turned gaming into a sport for millions of Asian players.

Sensible World of Soccer was definitely a notable sports game, but I don't see how it could be elevated to this level. What about Intellivision's World Series Major League Baseball, which pioneered sports gaming in a dozen ways? And the Madden series, kicking off in 1989, was probably far more culturally and historically significant to the gaming industry than Sensible Soccer. I was also surprised that the original Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) wasn't represented, given the legacy of massively multiplayer games that MUDs spawned.

Plus... Pong. C'mon, Pong. It's Pong! The first bona-fide videogame hit, the first game ever to turn a profit.

What do you think about the list? Email me!       -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
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Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 10:20 AM PDT
Edited on: March 13, 2007 10:24 AM PDT
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