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The Spirit of Game Culture
"Castoffs from the Golden Age" is, inevitably, an incomplete project. Rather than presenting a finished database for the history of the videogame industry in New Zealand, it gently guides the viewer through Melanie Swalwell's personal research. The imaginatively constructed platform for gathering and compiling information about the topic, not just by Melanie but by future visitors to the project, is by itself a worthy accomplishment. But that's not really what this project is about. Rather, in the spirit of game culture, it is a "walkthrough" that tells a story about uncovering a recent and familiar, but in the end surprisingly distant bit of digital community and culture.
From my own mixed perspective of historian of computer games and library curator, the experience of walking through Melanie's experiences resonated on two levels. As game, it tapped into a pattern of exploration built up through countless hours of online play, that of the guided quest. It doesn't matter if a particular encounter with a collector or research librarian answers a question or opens up a new quandary, it leaves me with both a prize -- some nugget of information or tantalizing fact -- and something else to track down. The neverending quest is only half the story, however. The other half is well known to librarians and archivists as the negotiated nature of the reference inquiry. Playing through Melanie's various modes of inquiry, directed towards librarians, collectors, hobbyists and friends, we work past naive notions about how research questions are answered. Queries are met by questions that lead to half-satisfactory responses, offset in time and orthogonal in space to some other avenue of approach. Personal contacts lead to websites, e-mail leads to library desks, a magazine article leads to an artifact ...
The design of "Castoffs from the Golden Age" conveys a strong sense of time in place, both particular moments of of the New Zealand game industry and the timing and placing of research moments played through the game. The grid of research paths leads to the database, but I also found myself eager to mine in a third dimension, to deepen my appreciation for the sites of community-building (arcades, living rooms, university computer centers) and the sources of amusement, pleasure, and obsession that motivated what happened there. In other words, I hope that this project will be visited often and actively by the players whose story Melanie has tried to tell. Tell me where your arcades were located, how games were arranged in them, and what you did there when you weren't pounding buttons. Did you play alone at home, or with friends? Were you ever obsessed by a game? What do you remember today about your favorite consoles?
- Henry Lowood, Stanford University, 05.22.2006