A game is an interaction between at least two individuals under certain rules to achieve some sort of goal or achievement. These rules can be shared between the parties and can contradict one side. This idea has not changed with electronic games, and they are not the first ones to have a non-living party. Just like card games have a card deck as the opposing party alongside other human players, electronic games use their device as the party to oppose the human player. In the end, modern video and computer games use the same rules and point calculation methods used past games and plays, be it sports or card games. After all, Super Mario Bros. is just a continuation of our play culture.
Steve Russel’s famous By gosh, it’s a Pinball! is a good contrast how not even the first computer game was, in the end, nothing new. After the Second World War, game parlors had become the cradle of youth culture, and pinball game parlors (or game arcades) became the place where young men and their girlfriends could escape to from the world, essentially becoming their own little separate worlds from the oppressing reality. This world was from the reach of mainstream culture and its moral guardsmen, allowing the youths to let their suppressed side to blow out.
Originally released 1969, this song is iconic representation of the time
Pinball Wizard is an anti-hero, an abused young man who is shunned by the larger world. However, in the game parlors he is able to convey himself to his peers, becoming one with the machine.
As such, it should be no surprise that parents would be worried about these parlors. After all, penny arcades before had been seen as place of vagabonds and men with beaten past. A place where people with less fortune could come together and entertain themselves with cheap coin operated machines, while possibly making connections to the criminal world. Different leagues and mafias controlled these penny arcades at during the 1930’s America, and as such it’s understandable to see people shunning arcades well up to the 1980’s. That shadow never left these places where men could get together and play games. It could be argued that even the games we have nowadays are suffering from similar complains, where moral guardians blame games for ruining whatever they deem valuable. In this light it is interesting to note that it is more than probable that many parents bought computers and game consoles to keep their children out of the arcades later down the line to keep them away from entering the wayside paths of life.
While my text is largely based on American culture, it’s not to say that the rest of the world saw these parlors in any better light. In France, Jean-Claude Baudot banned all coin operated machines in 1937 to prevent the disease penny arcades were seen as. According to Baudot, this law was still in effect up to the early 1980’s, though the law had been eased and circumvented in all ways and manners. In 1981 Ferdinand Marcos, the president of Philippines, banned all arcade video games. To enforce his rule he smashed arcade machines in public. This is the same man who banned Voltes V and other similarly themed cartoons just before the series’ final episode. Both of these men echo events that had taken place during world history time and time again, and events like these would be repeated after them, like how Pokémon was seen as the tool of the Devil by some religious forces. In Colorado Springs, 1999, pastor Mark Juvera took a 30-inch sword to a Pikachu toy in front of 85 children and calling Pokémon poison, not to mention the claims of video and computer games causing players to be more violent. Neither of these points are anything special, they’re just continuing the same backlash games and other media forms have experienced throughout the ages.
It is somewhat ironic to note that television was seen as one of the remedies to keep these rebelling young people at home, as the 1950’s saw it entering mass markets despite not many having the money to buy one. Television didn’t give solution to the problems parents saw game parlors to be, as the problem was social and parlors were not the originator. Turned out that these young people watched television and took themselves to play pinball with their mates. Basically everything that was seen a solution to a problem would later be deemed a problem in itself as well, as seen with books, movies, amateur radio and maybe some day with games too. The problems were real to an extent, they are always more about the stereotypical view the mass culture takes at them. Books, amateur radio, television and games share the same blame that they keep people, children and adults alike, inside rather than “allowing” them to go outside and play, or do something more worthwhile.
Arcades, as we now remember them, didn’t come from nowhere during the 1970’s. They are just those game parlors with a new name and new machines, just like penny arcades before them. We can trace these places back to the game events held before mechanical games existed. In Herrad von Landsberg’s manuscript from the 1100’s we can see a pair of knights fighting each other through controlled marionettes. While it would be easy to compare this to modern era Vs. fighting game, that would be far too direct. We do not know whether this was a common event or not, nor whether or not this is a real depiction as intended.
Nevertheless, the core idea of contest and games are still present, even in the physical games. In the same extension, cock-fighting has been compared to Pokémon and other similar games. This is not rare in any way, as all games have their roots in some form of other plays and games. Majority of first person shooters are based on war games, strategy games are war board games, platformers are adventures children have in forest and elsewhere and imitates jumping form rock to rock, fighting games are rooted in physical combat and so on. Plays and games the adults play do stem from the childhood games, and to certain extent adulthood work and politics are just grander, more serious form of these games. It should be noted that video games especially have stemmed from boy’s play culture (and still reside there due to the competitive nature of it), thou arcade games like Pac-Man and Breakout are more or less neutral in their approach.
But what are the original electronic or mechanic games that can be called as the firs physical grandfathers of modern computer and video games? Perhaps the first ancestral machines are the automata, with machines offering entertainment and awe to the audience. However, games require interactivity, and one of the first proto-interactive machines that allowed the user to dictate some elements of the entertainment was the mutoscope from the late 1800’s. It was deemed to cause moral decay and was blamed to corrupt the youths for the pennies they cost. Pornography was a thing, and mutoscope is most remembered for those kinds of movies. We shouldn’t forget shooting galleries and the like as one of the proto-interactive game machines, as Nintendo’s Zapper and the games it used are pretty much a straight continuation.
1900’s saw all these machines to become everyday objects, and despite the bad rap they got, they spread like wildfire throughout the world. UK created their own machines alongside Americans (a lot of mutoscope’s UK had were either destroyed or exported to the Denmark during coin change in 1971), France and Germany had their own similar history with coin operated machines and Japan had adult-only pachinko parlors in 1930’s Nagoya. It’s not a large step from these mechanical devices towards electronic games, and through that, into computer and video games.