Electronic components, conductive tracks and plastic sheets; these are some of the things you find when peeking at the innards of your personal computer. Aside from their technological utilities, circuit boards begin to look like maps or blueprints; angular structures and square paths form homogenous constructions of hyper connectivity. If you squint, they begin to look like cities from afar. It’s fitting, then, that a significant majority of computer technology is rooted in Silicon Valley—a place which when viewed from above looks like the boards of circuitry found in our personal systems. In our case, there was an Xbox 360 and a projector. They were just two devices from a collection bunched in front of us as we sat patiently waiting to talk with a man named Nolan Bushnell.
“I just got back from Cleveland, and my body doesn’t know what the hell time it is,” said Nolan as he lumbered into his office and folded into a chair. He’s a tall man, almost as tall as his reputation. If you didn’t know, he’s what many people call the innovator that launched the video game industry; the founder of Atari, and he did it all in the heart of Silicon Valley. Back then the question wasn’t,
‘do you play video games?’, it was, ‘do you play Atari?’.
The make shift appearance of Nolan’s office space—which was almost as scrambled as his jet-lagged demeanour—was appropriate considering his other accomplishments in revolutionising the workspace back in the 1970s.
“We liked to call it merit over process,” said Nolan while reclining in his chair. It’s true, today Silicon Valley is known for being host to start-up companies and huge tech-oriented corporations, but the name signifies more than just the abundance of silicon and semiconductors. For many it is synonymous with tech culture as a whole. At Atari, nonconformity was encouraged as a means to nurture creativity. It became the norm to wear your own clothes to work and be flexible with your hours.
“Up until then, if you were an engineer, you wore a white shirt and tie to work every day. Since Steve Jobs and Wozniak worked for me they took that same culture and ecosystem to Apple.” Name dropping someone like Steve Jobs might seem unexpected, but this was the kind of company Nolan fostered. Clearly his ethics have rubbed off on more than a few influential figures, but the point is that if you worked at Atari in the ‘70s you were rewarded for letting off steam as much as you were made to create ground-breaking innovations and intellectual properties.
Today Nolan’s innovations are closely linked with cognition. Brainrush is his current business venture. “It’s a gamification of certain learning techniques,” he started to explain, leaning forward with an authoritative stance. “It turns out our brains are designed to forget, not remember”.
Five video game fans from South East London take a trip along the west coast of North America, visiting people and places connected to the medium.
From founding figures and academics, to journalists, museums and new frontiers, this issue looks at video games in their variety of manifestations and reaching influences.