Is it okay to have fun with computers? Joseph Weisbecker, an electrical engineer from the twentieth century, gives an unequivocal yes! During his long career, Weisbecker made it his mission to promote the use of computers for human purposes beyond business and military applications. For him, there was no shame in video games, and he wanted the world to agree.
On this episode of Stories from the Stacks, Elizabeth Badger, PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, discusses the early history of video game culture, focusing on the effects of the commodification of games. Badger suggests that gaming culture initially focused on collective effort and community ethos, and that a turning point in the 1980s lead to the re-conception of video games a consumer commodities controlled by corporate interests. Badger situates her project in the context of her own experience with gaming and video game culture, noting the widespread prejudice against video games, and the sexism within gaming culture.
Using Hagley Library collections, including the David Sarnoff Research Center records and related materials from the RCA collection, Badger discovered the lengths to which corporations went to turn video games into profitable commodities. Records of suits filed by Atari against rival video game makers provided the smoking gun. The maker of Pong™ patented a basic piece of programming that opened virtually all subsequent video game makers to potential liability.
To support her use of Hagley Library collections, Badger received research grants from the Center for the History of Business, Technology, & Society. More information on funding opportunities for research at Hagley can be found here.
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Interviews by Benjamin Spohn & Nicole Mahoney. Produced by Gregory Hargreaves. The episode draws on two interviews conducted on separate dates, which have been combined and edited for length and clarity.
Image: RCA COSMAC VIP Game Manual, David Sarnoff Research Center records (Acc. 2464.09). View in the Hagley Digital Archives