Are video games art? Game designers have unquestionably left an indelible mark on those who grew up with their creations. While filmmakers bask in fame, the artists behind even the most legendary titles work mostly in anonymity. Perhaps these five stories will change that.
Master of Play Nick Paumgarten • The New Yorker • December 2010
A profile of Shigeru Miyamoto, the man who invented Donkey Kong, Mario, and the Wii:
"The game he came up with was Donkey Kong. He had in mind a scenario based on Popeye, but Nintendo was unable to secure the rights, so he invented a new set of characters. The hero, the player's avatar, was a carpenter named Jumpman. (Miyamoto had initially called him Mr. Video, with the intention of using him in every game, much in the way that, he said, Hitchcock appears in many of his own films.) Jumpman's pet gorilla had kidnapped his girlfriend, Pauline, and escaped with her to the top of a construction site. The object of the game was to climb up through the girders while dodging the gorilla's projectiles, and then vanquish the gorilla and rescue the girl. The goal, in other words, was to get to the end of the game, not just to pile up points. ('Donkey' was the word Miyamoto found in a Japanese-English dictionary for 'stubborn' or 'goofy.' 'Kong' was a word for gorilla.)"
Forging the Oregon Trail Jessica Lussenhop • City Pages • January 2011
How a group of roommates in Minneapolis created the most enduring educational game ever:
"With no monitor, the original version of Oregon Trail was played by answering prompts that printed out on a roll of paper. At 10 characters per second, the teletype spat out, "How much do you want to spend on your oxen team?" or, "Do you want to eat (1) poorly (2) moderately or (3) well?" Students typed in the numerical responses, then the program chugged through a few basic formulas and spat out the next prompt along with a status update."
Spacewar Stewart Brand • Rolling Stone • December 1972
Chronicling the viral spread of the early video game Spacewar through computer science departments around the country, with students hacking in their own variations on the game and passing it on, until it eventually arrived in coffee shops at 25 cents per play:
"The pride of any hacker with a new program is its 'features.' Fresh forms of Spacewar with exotic new features proliferated. As Russell explains it, everything at MIT had priority over Spacewar, but it was an educational computer after all, and developing new programs (of Spacewar) was educational, and then those programs needed testing ... The initial game of simply two spaceships and their torpedoes didn't last long. Gravity was introduced."