Volume 10, Number 1

Editor's Note

Welcome to the American Journal of Play special issue on the new video game history, another in the series of theme issues we publish from time to time. Each focuses on an important topic in the fast-developing study of play. Each is guest edited by a distinguished expert on the topic. And each includes work by the leading researchers and thinkers on the topic. Our guest editor, video game historian and director of The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) Jon-Paul C. Dyson has assembled a series of articles that raise new questions about—and explore innovative approaches to—the study of video game history. An interview with Dyson, who discusses ICHEG’s efforts to collect, preserve, and interpret the history of video games, opens the issue. Raiford Guins interrogates the concept of a new video game history by analyzing changes in the research and writing of game history. Carly Kocurek examines the lives of three often overlooked women—a game regulation activist, an arcade route operator, and an industry executive. Laine Nooney deconstructs the origin story of early computer game developer Sierra On-Line and the company’s first game Mystery House. And in an excerpt from psychologists Patrick M. Markey and Christopher J. Ferguson’s book Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong, the authors examine the violent video game moral panic and its impact on game research. Taken together, these articles challenge our approach to video game history, explore new methodologies and source materials, and underscore the importance of video games to evolving histories of play.  



Jon-Paul C. Dyson is vice president for exhibits and director of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) at The Strong. Trained as a cultural and intellectual historian, he joined The Strong in 1998 and has worked on and supervised the development of dozens of exhibits on play and video games. He initiated the museum’s efforts to collect, preserve, and interpret video games in 2006, and today The Strong’s collections are the most comprehensive in the world. He writes frequently on video games and play for both scholarly and general audiences. This interview explores how The Strong has developed its video game collections, what some of the pressing issues are in preserving those materials, and some possible directions that video game scholarship will take in the coming years. Key words: collecting electronic games; electronic game history; electronic game preservation; International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG); video games


by Raiford Guins


The author asks what has occurred in game history scholarship to warrant the use of the adjective “new” in “New Video Game History” and suggests an awareness of process may now be influencing the study of games. In support of this observation, he organizes the article along two interrelated fronts. The first speaks to the on-going process of collection development at cultural institutions while the second addresses a shift in how game history is currently being written. The latter, he argues, demonstrates why we ought to consider carefully what “new” might signal for the critical historical study of games. At length, the article concludes by making a case for turning to design history to write a historical study of Atari’s coin-operated machines.  Key words: Atari; coin-ops; design history; graphic design; game history; indus-trial design; New Video Game History

by Carly Kocurek


The author discusses how, in practice, historians often obscure the effect of women’s lives, work, and contributions on their topic, and she takes special note of video game history. Using both history and film studies as examples, she argues that games historians can and should adopt feminist viewpoints to help ensure a fuller, more diverse accounting of the past. She examines the stories of three women—video game regulation activist Ronnie Lamm, route operator Amelia “Millie” McCarthy, and Exidy executive Lila Zinter—to demonstrate the types of historical information often overlooked in video game history. She concludes that video game historians must use archives, documents, and other research to think more broadly about the purpose and impact of their own work and not allow video game history to be reduced to a highlights reel that captures only the works of a few key players. Instead, their history should capture the depth and diversity of video games and game culture, including the impact of women on the field. Key words: arcade, coin-op games, Exidy, feminist history, Lila Zinter, Millie McCarthy, Ronnie Lamm, women in video games, video game history

by Laine Nooney


The author retells the origin story of Sierra On-Line and its historic first prod-uct, the graphical adventure game Mystery House. She reviews the academic and journalistic writing that placed the story almost exclusively inside a nar-rative about early computer games, treating it as a saga of the competition between the graphic adventures Sierra On-Line produced and the literary games developed by companies like Infocom and dubbed interactive fiction. The author argues that such video game history proved both inaccurate and obfuscating, the she uses archival documentation and a counter-historical methodology to describe a different kind origin for Sierra On-Line and to deride the obviousness of presumptive beginnings within the discipline of game history. Key words: adventure, adventure game, game historiogra-phy, game history, genre, interactive fiction, Ken Williams, Mystery House, Roberta Williams, Sierra On-Line 

by Patrick M. Markey and Christopher J. Ferguson


In this excerpt from their new book, Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong (BenBella Books, 2017), the authors present an argu-ment in defense of video games while dispelling the myth that such games lead to real-world violence. The authors define and examine moral panics and provide guidelines for identifying and understanding this phenomenon. They focus in particular on how the moral panic around video games has affected scientific research on games. Key words: gaming, moral panic, video game research; video games, video game violence;

Book Reviews

by James D. Ivory

Ian Bogost, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and contribut-ing editor at the Atlantic, takes no half measures in his treatises on games and play. For several years, the multitalented Bogost has been a leading voice in the critique of game culture and the digital games industry through forums ranging from academic books to popular-press articles and interviews to keynote talks to his own digital game products. The latter have a reputation for making points by satirizing their subject matter with their mechanics, such as Bogost’s Cow Clicker, which lampooned the repetitive reward systems of popular social media-based games by structuring its play around the task of repeatedly clicking an image of a cow. Bogost’s academic and popular writings are both confrontational. His take in the Atlantic on the phenomenon of “gamification” (a term for adding game-like elements, such as points or competition tables, to nongame activities, particularly in a commercial context) was titled, “Gamification is Bullshit” (2011).

by Jamie C. Saucier

Jason Reid’s Get Out of My Room: A History of Teen Bedrooms in America is a comprehensive and engaging study that accomplishes what all historical writing aims for but which it so seldom achieves. It illuminates its subject matter while simultaneously enriching the reader’s under-standing of the broader historical periods in which it contextualizes Reid’s analysis. Get Out of My Room is a worthwhile addition to the existing historiography in its own right as well as an excellent reference point for twentieth-century U.S. social and cultural history.

by Carol Korn-Bursztyn

Counseling Families: Play-Based Treatment provides an introduction to inte-grating play therapy and family counseling approaches. It presents a review of how various approaches to play therapy apply to family work. Although the volume assumes the reader possesses a basic understanding of the principles of non-directed play therapy with children, the book is primarily geared toward counsel-ing students and beginning practitioners.

by Michelle Parnett-Dwyer

In Toy Stories: The Toy as Hero in Literature, Comics, and Film, Tanya Jones has compiled a collection of essays that strive to examine what makes toys heroic in fiction. The contributors provide varied and informa-tive perspectives on representations of toys in American and international literature, comics, and films. From discussions of the Biedermeier period to modern material-ism, from the killer toy genre to repression of youth culture, Toy Stories focuses on how toys communicate our anxieties, histories, rules, social values, and beliefs. 

by Anastasia Salter

In the introduction to Atari Age: The Emergence of Video Games in America, Michael Newman observes that he was born in the same year as the debut of Pong (1972) and grew up during the height of the Atari craze. As a slightly younger scholar, I missed the direct experience of the Atari era. Nintendo was all the rage among my peers, though like Newman I could not convince my parents to buy the hot console of the moment. Newman succeeds both in painting the era I missed in impressive detail and in capturing its sig-nificance for scholars. Atari Age focuses on a very narrow time period at the dawn of video games, as its title suggests. It is not, however, simply an account of Atari as a business or even as a cultural producer. Instead, Newman engages with the video game and console during Atari’s reign as physical artifacts situated in changing spaces influenced by a migration from the public to the domestic sphere. 

by Jennifer deWinter

Inventions, Cold War politics, friendships, betrayals, revenge, courtroom drama, false contracts, international intrigue, and money, lots of money—this list could describe any number of blockbuster movies or critically acclaimed television shows. In this case, however, it depicts the story of Tetris, starting with Alexey Pajitnov playing with pentomino puzzle pieces in Soviet Russia and closing with a mostly happy ending for the heroes of these stories. I am purposeful about the use of “story” and “hero” here, for this is how these two books—The Tetris Effect: The Game That Hypnotized the World by journalist Dan Ackerman and Tetris: The Games People Play by graphic novelist Box Brown—present the history of Tetris. This seemingly simple geospatial puzzle game, inspired by the pentomino puzzles of Pajitnov’s youth, had profound effects on the lives of people and nations. 

by Tom Apperley

Phillip Penix-Tadsen’s objective with Cultural Code is to “bring together the criti-cal vocabularies of game studies and Latin American cultural studies in order to offer the first synthetic theorization of the rela-tionship between video games and culture” (p. 1). In this regard, the book takes on a valuable perspective from George Yúdice, that to understand the relationship between video games and culture—both how video games use culture and how culture makes use of video games—are equally important. In addition to Yúdice, the book is influenced by well-known Latin American cultural studies scholars like Beatriz Sarlo, Néstor García Canclini, and Jesús Martín Barbero. The influence of Latin American cultural studies makes the intellectual framework for the book unique. It gives Penix-Tadsen’s analysis significance far beyond its regional boundaries. 

Raiford Guins is Professor of Cinema and Media Studies in The Media School at Indiana University. Founding principal editor for the Journal of Visual Culture and coeditor, with Henry Lowood, for the MIT Press book series, Game Histories, he is the author of Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife. His writings on game history have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including the Atlantic, Cabinet, Design and Culture, Design Issues, Digital Culture & Education, Game Studies, Journal of Design History, Journal of Visual Culture, and Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture. Guins is currently at work on a new book, Atari Modern: A Design History of Atari’s Coin-Op Cabinets, 1972–1979

Carly A. Kocurek is Associate Professor of Digital Humanities and Media Stud-ies and Director of Digital Humanities at the Illinois Institute of Technology. A game designer as well, she has written two books: Brenda Laurel: Pioneering Games for Girls and Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade. Her work on game studies has appeared in such journals as Game Studies, The Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds, Technical Communication Quarterly, Communication Design Quarterly, Visual Studies, and others.

Patrick M. Markey is Professor of Psychology and the director of the Inter-personal Research Laboratory at Villanova University. He has published works in more than sixty books and journals, including Psychology of Popular Media Culture, Archives of Sexual Behavior, Journal of Research in Personality, and Journal of Health and Psychology. Christopher J. Ferguson is Associate Professor of Psychology and Department Chair at Stetson University. His work on media and gun violence has appeared in more than one hundred books and journals, including Perspectives on Psychological Science, Journal of Communication, International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, and Personality and Individual Differences

Laine Nooney is Assistant Professor of Media and Information Industries in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, where she specializes in video games and personal computing. Founding editor of the forthcoming ROMchip: A Journal of Game Histories, she has written for Game Studies, Journal of Visual Culture, and the Atlantic. Nooney is currently at work on a social history of the American computer game industry based on a case study of Sierra On-Line, entitled Before We Were Gamers: Remembering and Forgetting an Industry’s Dawn.