The Armchair Historianâ€™s Guide
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The Armchair Historianâ€™s Guide
1: Ducit Amor Patriae Nobody cares any more.
ll too often one can ďŹ nd these words scattered across the blogosphere, hidden in the prose of fan-pages and the editorials in video gaming publications and even in creeping into general conversation among the trendiest gamers. When spoken aloud, the words are usually couched in modulated, well practiced tones that would make even the most egregiously self-righteous season one episodes of a twenty fourth century science ďŹ ction series proud. No one cares about points in modern games anymore and certainly no one cares about keeping score. All that remains is the obligatory smug lecture from a spry gentleman in a red tunic about how humanity has evolved beyond its petty needs for the old 20th century ideals of competition and how the modern gaming economies of the future have made the
1: Ducit Amor Patriae oppressive point systems of the past irrelevant. Cue synthetic orchestra and fade to commercial. For even the most passionate, rational devotee of gaming there is a moment of brief pause. It is typiﬁed by that arcade moment in Namco’s Galaga or Seibu Kaihatsu’s Raiden when as a drizzle of missiles slowly turns into a violent storm you brieﬂy wonder if you are on the right side of history. It is that tiniest moment of reﬂection when faced with the growing murmurs across the community of gamers you brieﬂy consider “Could the Jean-Lucs be right?” Could the era of competitive gaming based on collecting points be an artifact of less evolved, less reﬁned 20th century tastes in gaming? Is keeping score passé?
With Apologies to the 24th Century Perhaps one of the most over used aphorisms in use today is George Santayana’s aphorism on repetitive consequences. Often paraphrased, the kernel of the common expression is “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Nearly a century later a philosopher gamer from the fabled lost arcade of Kallipolis might just as easily remark “those who did not experience
The Armchair Historian’s Guide the past are more likely to condemn it.” Historically the concept of using score to track accomplishment in play predates the videogame experience. The concept of assigning a point value to accomplishing objectives, besting our adversaries or to performing tasks with higher efﬁciency reaches back to the dawn of play. While there are many examples of games outside of the realm of video games that have no direct concept of points, arguable the most popular competitive games frequently use the concept of points as a metric of simple progression in a game. Shigeru Miyamoto’s classic arcade game Donkey Kong taunted players with the simple question “How high can you get?” While some saw this question as purely rhetorical, wise and competitive philosopher gamers could answer this question directly by replying using their numeric score or they could use an indirect score and reply by counting the number of levels1 they had passed. Miyamoto’s Donkey Kong may have been one of the ﬁrst videogames to so verbosely ask this directly, but it was not the ﬁrst video game to pose such a question. While the future might be known to the Jean-Lucs among us, it is quite possible that it will also not be counted among the last games to ask.
1: Ducit Amor Patriae The rich legacy of keeping score in video games comes to us largely from the ancestor of the arcade video game: pinball. Many of our ideas in scoring and score based play were tested and proven in the realm of pinball. Long before the giant cosmic silverball2 fell from the heavens and shrouded the industry in seemly unending darkness, mighty pinball machines walked the Earth. For a brief time beyond the memories of many arcade and pinball machines stood side by side.
One Score and Fourteen Years Ago In 1976, Midway Manufacturing Co’s periscope shooter Sea Wolf became more than one among many, it became a legend. With its “High Score” counter in addition to a traditional player score counter it is often credited as being the ﬁrst coin-operated arcade game to keep track of the highest achievement in play. While the high score kept only the numeric values of the score, the simple act of including a high score was in many ways as epic as man setting foot on the moon. Like a boot print in the lunar soil leaving a anonymous high score was like leaving incontrovertible proof to any explorer that followed that not only has someone had been there before but here was a measure of how far they travelled. While Midway’s Sea Wolf had paved the way two-years earlier by placing the high
The Armchair Historian’s Guide score on the game’s attract mode, 1978’s Space Invaders by Taito’s Tomohiro Nishikado upped the ante by placing the current high score right above the action on the active game screen. While it was still not known who had set the on screen record, the record was now a clear threshold that delineated the level of play required by some gamer or perhaps the machine itself to be the best. Three years after Sea Wolf in late 1979, Exidy’s Star Fire arcade game would change everything. Designed by David Rolfe and Ted Michon the game featured the ﬁrst high score table that allowed players to not only record achievement but to claim their achievement by using their own initials, coded callsigns or gamer tags3 so that future arcade explorers could not only see that someone had been there before and how far they had travelled but for the ﬁrst time they could attach an identity to the achievement. Like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey or the meeting at Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters it was an awe-inspiring message to every gamer in an arcade: “We Are Not Alone” By the 1980s not only were points based systems for competitive play ubiquitous but the idea of keeping score including nonvolatile storage of scores was essential to the arcade experience. Trailblazing pioneers
1: Ducit Amor Patriae like Walter Day became the ﬁrst true historians of the electronic gaming age. Through venues like Day’s Twin Galaxies4 national scoreboard for electronic gaming the history of some of gaming’s greatest achievements on not only arcade games but also pinball machines, console game systems and hand held systems. Without the thirty year effort of Walter Day5 and the entire team at Twin Galaxies much of the history of gaming might have been lost during the long night that fell upon the both worlds of pinball and the arcade. (Armchair Footnotes) 1 What we call “levels” today may also be called “game boards” for the sufﬁciently ancient patron of golden age gaming. 2 More controversial theories from noted cosmologists postulate that the cosmic silverball was in fact a slot machine. 3 Paleolithic gamer tags compared to what modern gamers think of today or what BBS gamers might use a few short years later. 4 Visit Twin Galaxies at www.twingalaxies.com. 5 In March 2010, Walter Day announced his retirement from Twin Galaxies. His voice in gaming will be missed.
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Published on Jul 14, 2010
The Armchair Historian’s Guide is your pocket manifesto for observing, chronicling and even making the digital record books of achievement i...