In the year 1972 the world was introduced to the very first successful arcade video game called Pong, created by a little known company named Atari. The introduction of Pong in 1972 marked the beginning of the video game industry, which just so happens to be one of the biggest entertainment industries in the world today. The 80s, however, proved to be one of the most critical decades of the industry’s advancement. The early 1980s, specifically 1980 to 1982, were known as the golden age of arcade video games due to the industry’s boost in popularity and innovation. Some notable arcade video games introduced during the Golden Age include Pac-man, Donkey Kong, Centipede, and Frogger, which have now become household names due to their unique styles. Video games began to get more advanced as the decade advanced with the introduction of the Atari 5200 SuperSystem in 1982, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985, Sega’s Master System in 1986, and the Atari 7800 in 1986. These were considered the first generation of gaming systems that single handedly revolutionized the idea of home entertainment and made arcade games obsolete. To cap off the decade Nintendo introduced the Gameboy in 1989, which was the first handheld console of its kind, bundled with the game Tetris. The introduction of various ways to game by the end of the 1980s set the foundation for the advancement of video game culture, which is now considered to have one of the biggest cult followings in the world. In order to further understand the crucial expansion of gaming in the 1980s and its impact on the world today primary and secondary sources will be used along with a first hand experience provided by an interviewee to analyze each significant gain.
To thoroughly understand why the accomplishments that occurred in the 1980s were so revolutionizing the events leading up to them must be analyzed. In the early 1970s, prior to the Golden Age of Arcade Games, there were a lot of baby steps to move towards the construction of a consumer friendly arcade game. The Galaxy Game was the first Digital Out-Of-Home Entertainment system that was coin operated, which was built by Bill Pitts and Hugh Tuck (BMIgaming). It originally cost $20,000 to build the system, causing only a few to be built and installed on Stanford University’s campus, which led to the game never exploding into mainstream culture even though it was a hit amongst the students (BMIgaming). It wasn’t until Nolan Bushnell and Al Alcorn came together in 1972 to create Atari and construct the video game famously known as Pong that the video game industry found its cash cow (Takahashi). The system was built in a little over three months and saw its first action in Andy Capps’ tavern in California (Takahashi). The game was so popular at the tavern that the coin box would fill up every night and immediately Alcorn and Bushnell knew they had struck gold. By November 30th, 1972 the first Pong arcades began to ship at only $1095, an immense decrease in cost from Pitts and Tuck’s Galaxy Wars (Atari). The Atari arcade systems began to fly off the shelf and were quickly a staple in every bar and bowling alley across the country. Atari then began to sell TV versions of Pong arcade in 1975, which was the biggest holiday hit with people waiting hours in line to get their own system (Atari). My interviewee specifically stated, “the original Pong games were very simple but the idea of an interactive game such as Pong was very interesting. I would always find my friends and I spending hours on the game because of how competitive it was” (Williams). Seeing the first hand effects the game had on its consumers shows how the arcade version and home version of Pong single handedly set the standard for gaming both in and out of homes.
As Atari caught fire in the mid to late 1980s other companies began to vie for position in the industry, which led to the Golden Age of Arcade Video Games. Games such as Frogger, Pac-Man, and Centipede began to find themselves a slot in arcades across the country. The best way to describe this expansion is through Mike Moore’s 1983 article title: Video Games: Sons of Pong. The introduction of Moore’s article elaborates how Atari was the basis of all video games after Pong was released nationwide, comparing it to a contagious, ever evolving virus that changes from game to game. For example Moore states “Video games have grown exponentially, like a virus. Pong began to disappear, mutated into Breakout… Then video games learned to shoot and develop plot. Space Invaders became The Game” (Moore). Moore perfectly describes how the video game industry began to take off immediately following the introduction of Pong to the entertainment industry. Pac-Man was one of the biggest hits to follow Atari’s Pong because of how consumer friendly it was to both sexes. Prior to Pac-Man a majority of arcade video games relied on shooting and violence to capture the audience, but Pac-Man went against the status quo and created an innocent, humble character that was just trying to avoid some ghosts and eat some cherries. The game was so popular that Americans paid $8 million a week to play the game in 1982 (Moore). The game’s popularity was vastly due to its unique direction, cuteness, which had yet to be used in an arcade game. This idea incentivized the creation of Ms. Pac-Man, to attract female gamers, and Frogger, which was one of the easiest games to comprehend in the arcade. These creations were just one of many ways the video game industry of the 1980s reached out to a broader audience and set new standards for new developers to follow.
As Moore previously stated, video games were a lot like a “virus” in the sense that they were mutating at a fast rate. By 1985 Nintendo introduced their first console the NES, which immediately put their name on the market due to the console’s immense popularity. Games like Duck Hunt, Zelda, and Super Mario Bros. became instant classics, whether it was just shooting down a couple of ducks or attempting to save a princess from impending doom everyone enjoyed it. One of the main reasons for peoples’ growing obsession with these games is their evolving nature and their ability to become more complex. Super Mario Bros., for example, may seem like a relatively simple game with a simple goal: save the princess. Upon further analysis, however, Mario’s journey can be compared to that of many heroes from a variety of historical literature. In An Individuated Video Game – Nintendo Entertainment System: Super Mario Bros. by Raoul Berke Mario’s journey is compared to that of many famous tales through the use of the character’s very own mushroom. Berke writes, “…Mario’s quest is the hero’s quest. The mushroom has traditionally been represented as having transformative powers, from Greek mythology, to Aesop, to Alice in Wonderland, to psilocybin. The mushroom, a primitive, undifferentiated form of plant life, represents the hero’s connection to the Great Mother and her powers of renewal.” (Berke). The representation of Mario as a hero on a journey opens a whole new door that shows how one can think about video games. His journey is one of immense failure, great success, and character building. He travels from world to world facing new obstacles in his way just like Odysseus did during his journey back home. These comparisons, however, go unnoticed to the average gamer but prove to be one of the key aspects that have made video games so unique from other forms of entertainment. The interactive plot allows for people to play the role of a hero through their actions, which led to the creation of gaming’s cult fan base due to that unique experience first introduced in the ‘80s.
In today’s world video games are highly criticized on their plot, artwork, functionality, and overall uniqueness, but back in the 1980s many people did not know how to fully interpret a video game to that scale. The speed of which the industry was advancing left many with not enough time to think about how serious the product should be taken. Richard Gehr’s article “How to Read a Video Game”, written in 1983, perfectly describes the dilemma that society faced at the time. In his article Gehr makes a comparison between the early days of movies to video games, stating, “It took decades for movies to be serious subjects of study” and that “Only recently has television earn the respectability of time” (Gehr). The ‘80s proved to be a decade where video games had yet to earn legitimacy among critics, which was something all major entertainment companies hadn’t earned until they had proven themselves as legitimate representations of art. My interviewee attests, and still attests to this day, “For me video games never seemed like something of artistic legitimacy equivalent to that of television or movies. It was just something to play in my spare time when I needed to relax” (Williams).
Gehr’s primary argument in his article, however, is that video games should receive as much criticism as movies and television shows did during his time. The movie Tron was one of his examples because it had originated from a video game. The release of Tron in 1982 proved to show how video games created a brand new culture in American society with its popularity amongst the youth and represented how video games can be interpreted into artistic works. Gehr even goes as far as to say that Pac-Man is the video equivalent of E.T. the Extraterrestrial because of how popular both works were amongst Americans. In the movies first 6 months E.T. the Extraterrestrial grossed about $11 million a week while Pac-Man earned a weekly salary of a cool $8 million from its coin operated machines (Gehr). This goes to show that both industries were gaining the same amount of popularity during the time, showing the growing legitimacy of video games. Furthermore, What set video games apart from television and movies was that they were “… both play and art” (Gehr). Contrary to the hypnotic nature of watching television, video games got the player involved and made them express emotion with each decision made in game. Such feeling made video games incomparable to that of movies and television, which was one of main reasons for its legitimacy and booming popularity in the 1980s.
Video games are now regarded as one of the top entertainment products in the world, becoming a $21 billion company. It can be found on computers, consoles, handhelds, and even cell phones. As the industry has progressed, however, there have been some malignant effects from the product. The most notable side effect is addiction, which was spotted early by W. Barlow Soper and Mark J. Miller in their article “Junk-Time Junkies: An Emerging Addiction Among Students” written in 1983. Miller and Soper write about a student that had come up to them and had vented about his addiction to gaming, calling himself a “video game junkie”. To their surprise the symptoms were a lot like an addiction to a drug with “compulsive behaviorial involvement, lack of interest in other activities, association with mainly other addicts, and, in this particular instance, failing grades due to diminished school activity” (Soper & Miller). Soper and Miller soon found out that this one student was only one of many that had fallen victim to the tantalizing effects of gaming. They heard tales of their students skipping classes, spending whole allowances on video games, and even spending money they didn’t necessarily have. These students felt guilt, anger, and helplessness from their addiction and Soper and Miller knew something had to change.
As video games have developed, so has the research for the addiction towards the product. Psychological effects such as loss of social skills, increase in aggression, and lack of perception of reality have been evaluated and have been considered to be legitimate effects from the addiction. In “Relation between Video Game Addiction and Interfamily Relationships on Primary School Students”, a psychological study ran by Selen Demirtas Zorbaz, Ozlem Ulas, and Seval Kizildag, it was proven that video game addiction has harmful affects on social development due to its solitary nature. Family relations become strained due a kid’s obsession, resulting in a lack of social interaction that can be taught in everyday interactions with family members. The study reveals “Since one’s family plays such an important role in a child’s individual and social development, a lack of effective communication within the family, the fact that family roles are neither clear nor apparent, and that absence of emotional closeness in one’s family all are factors which act to turn one’s family into a risk factor.” (Zorbaz, Ulas, Kizildag). Therefore it can be concluded that lack of family interaction severely stunts the basic skills a kid learns in family life.
Needless to say the development of video games in the 1980s has impacted the American society in an immense degree, both positively and negatively. It provided the American society with a new form of art and entertainment, which has led to many people following their dream working in the video game industry and made countless more diehard fans of the culture. Moore made an important observation in his 1983 article that these games were making teenagers turn to the field of computer science. During the ‘80s computers were very much still a mystery a large group of people, but now that they had provided entertainment more and more people were wanting to get involved in the creation of these games. Though these games have resulted in addiction in some cases it does not outweigh the great advancement that occurred during the time. The 1980s were a time when people when against the status quo and challenged to be innovative, something I still believe in from my initial reflection. Sometimes that comes with unforeseen consequences, which I did not realize upon my first impression. All things, however, have their cons, such as the Roaring ‘20s leading to the Great Depression. My research has realized that their has to be a price for each major step taken towards advancement in society and our jobs as citizens is to overcome these obstacle to create a better culture that helps one another. This is pattern that will be repeated time and time again like Pac-Man endlessly guiding his way through his maze in the search of his prized cherry power up.
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