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Vol 1 No 1 (July 2019)

The Games We Didn’t Predict

Jesper Juul Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts

As I write this, I have yet to see the other pieces in this inaugural issue of ROMchip, but I assume them to be interesting and well-argued takes on the central question of what the history of games could be and I predict that they articulate solid historiographical principles and perspectives on video game history.

What I think: to work with video game history is to be a reject from that history. A reject in that video game history just always becomes something different than we had anticipated. There are brief periods of time where we know what video games are, but they are almost immediately replaced by events that are salient in unpredicted ways. It’s not that history turns left when we think it turns right, but that history moves vertically when we were thinking of only horizontal movement.

At one point, it seemed like single-player storytelling games were the most singularly interesting game form, but that was replaced by massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), and they were in turn overtaken (in popularity, in interestingness) by casual games where the audience suddenly became central, in turn overtaken by independent games with their focus on auteurship and diversity, and by mobile games with their new use cases and business models.

That is the history of video games that I see: to continually try to set up parameters for what is going on, all the while being ready to throw our disciplines and assumptions under the bus, to prepare ourselves for change that happens in new and unpredicted ways, change for which we are never really prepared.