Greetings, I am interested in mechanical or early computer amusements, in videogames before videogames or sometimes before video. To me it makes sense to think of the vgame format in part as a way to sell fantasies of technology, as much as embodying any more specific or considered use of that technology. And in that sense they exist as a continuum with a wide variety of things which may not be very interesting from a strictly game design point of view but which came about in similar conditions and spoke to something of the same fantasy. Accidental affordances of a new mass technology that are identified, peeled off and sold in hopes of catching some desire which no-one yet may be able to specifically identify.
But I don’t know much about them!! My knowledge of these things is pretty scattered. I’d be interested in either more good resources or in specific examples which are interesting or funny. Here are some which have been on my mind lately.
Erkki Huhtamo, “Slots of Fun, Slots of Trouble” (2005), an “archaeology of arcade gaming” which connects early electronic games to 19th century coin operated doohickeys (slot machines, shooting ranges, weight machines, fortune tellers, cigarette machines…) and also talks about what the latter might mean as mechanised leisure to offset, or complement, increasingly mechanised forms of work. Lots of interesting asides including the notion that these things came to prioritise skill over chance in part to evade anti-gambling moral panics. It necessarily covers a lot of ground and I’m not sure if some of the floated potential reasons why these things caught on are that convincing to me but I greatly appreciate the expanded scope here.
Musee Mechanique, “End Of The Trail” - I’ve never been to San Francisco but I’ve watched the Gamecenter CX episode about it. The most mysterious one to me was this little diorama of a destroyed wagon in the desert - putting in a coin just activates a little wind machine that ominously blows across it. I guess this is an extreme mutation of the little clockwork diorama things, but weirdly foreshadows the later videogame interest in realistic cloth behaviors.
The Conundrum / What Will I Play Next? (1931) - before Monty Python came up with the same joke Victor were experimenting with records that had multiple different grooves, meaning they might play something totally different depending on where the needle was placed. There’s an interesting variant of this one called “Pick The Winner” - it had 6 different potential outcome tracks, each of which played a different commentary track for the same horse race. While functionally not that different from just guessing on a roll of dice (or presumably less exciting, once you were able to recognise which track was which?) it’s interesting to hear they deliberately adopted the form of the racing commentary track as a way to create pacing and tension once the needle was laid down.
http://allincolorforaquarter.blogspot.com/ - “The Golden Age Arcade Historian”. Has some very good longform articles - I particularly like the ones on Nutting Associates (yes…), the amusement makers who manufactured Computer Space with Nolan Bushnell. I know it’s widely known that videogames emerged from the US military but it’s strangely gratifying to also discover that the private company who made one of the canonical early vg experiments specifically were able to move into the entertainment business because they made millions of dollars selling “educational” training computers to Raytheon. Games for change!
Golly! Ghost! (1990) - a Namco arcade game where you shoot electronic sprites projected above a real, 3d diorama inside the game cabinet. I love dioramas so it excited me to see this kind of weird attempt to recreate some of the older shooting gallery forms in a new context.
Anyway, feel free to post things in a similar vein, I will post more if I bump into any on my interet travels.