Blog Post

Platforms of Culture: the Making of Generation X

This week I've been reading in Platform Studies, focusing on "Racing the Beam" by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost. Their work has inspired a whole host of conversations with the programmers at my office, my husband and my friends, most of whom are Generation Xers like myself; raised on Pong, Centipede, Asteroids and Pac-Man. I used this week as an opportunity to not only revisit the games of my youth, but to also compare them with the latest and greatest gaming addictions in our house, the PSP and the Wii.

I invited Sarah Roberts over for some Wii fun so we could compare platforms, since we are roughly the same age and certainly influenced by all the same iconic games of our generation. We started the night off with an up to date version of Pong: the Wii Resort Table Tennis game. What is is interesting to note about platforms is the way in which motion sensors and the body are full integrated into gaming now -- at least far more than in the past. We got an intense upper body workout from Wii Resort Cycling, Table Tennis, Bowling and Frisbee. And much like the games of the past, our gaming session was replete with screaming, cursing, laughing and smack-talking.

This led me to looking more deeply beyond the computing platform upon which games are built, but to the cultural platform that gaming continues to be. Why do people play games, what motivates our attraction to games? Ventures through Wikipedia and several articles later, it is apparent that the social value of playing games is deeply embedded in the human experience.

I do think there were some great articles that I read along the way, and that you might enjoy seeing the transformation of Pong to today’s Wii games – so here are a few photos from my own generational experience with gaming – and screen shots of some of my favorites over the past 30 years.

Platforms do more than just provide a structure for creating programming of a variety of sorts. In many ways, the video games of yesterday and today serve as a pop cultural platform for shared experience and memory, much like television programming like the iconic Dynasty, Golden Girls, Cosby Show, Miami Vice, and ER have done over the past three decades. Bogost and Mofort tell us that "A platform in its purest form is an abstraction, a particular standard or specification before any particular implementation of it. To be used by people and to take part in our culture directly, a platform must take material form, as the Atari VCS certainly did." And the platform of gaming has without a doubt been a memorable feature of Generation X culture.

More interesting reading in the Graphics Special Interest Group (SIGGRAPH) of ACM: http://www.siggraph.org/publications/newsletter/v33n4/columns/gaming.html

Other video games of my youth (not to mention Atari, Pac-Man, and arcade games):

littleprofessor.jpg

(My first handheld games -- I had football, basketball, baseball and soccer. These were the precursors to the PSP)

(My first educational game -- the Little Professor. It was me. It was the Professor. Time stood still, and we were One).

(I wanted this so badly, but we were too poor for me to get one. Speak and Spell. So, I had to use it at school as a "treat" when I got my work finished. So unfair!).

(I have no words. If you were there...you know).

(By the time I was in high school, table tops had taken center stage. Don't sleep on Ms. Pac-Man).

(I could certainly stand for several hours playing Tempest -- and turn my lunch money into quarters to fuel my ten year old passions).

(My Mom and I bonded over Myst for a long time...it was a family fave).

Games in our House Today:


(Gift to my husband three years ago...he still plays it almost every night).

(My Avatar, "Umoja Baby." She has bad vision like me, so she wears glasses).

(Umoja Baby vs. Sarah T.)

(This is part of the smack-talking that ensued...so ugly).

(Today's version of Pong...we've come a long way, baby. Cigarette ad slogans were also part of the platform of our culture).

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