What if the history of games wasn’t about what came first, what was the most obscure, or what was the most memorable? What if we told a history of games about the everyday? What would these histories look like and how would they contribute to what has already been done and the work that continues to happen?
In many ways it is the concept of play that becomes more focal within this type of history of games. Without getting into arguments about terminology or pitching games versus play, if we open up both of these terms within the history of games then we start to see how playing with games, playing through games, and playing around games also starts to feed into our understanding of how people once experienced and continue to experience games in their everyday lives.
In a recent project, I interviewed a range of people about their own histories of digital games and play in the 1980s.1 Some of these people went on to work in the computer games industry, some of them worked in the technology sector, and some of them didn’t like games at all but had used them as a way of understanding computer programming routines. Many of the most interesting discussions that arose from these interviews were not always about particular games themselves, but how the industry was viewed at the time, how games were or weren’t discussed within their educational experiences or in the home, and how other people within their lives viewed games. Themes often emerged around how making computer games wasn’t considered a proper job and the misconceptions and misunderstandings around what computer games were or could be. Similarly, the creativity of playing around with game code and/or game design was often at the core of some of these memories. This play was, at times, referenced in relation to other objects and activities, such as playing with Lego, or composing music, or even cooking. Therefore, these histories of games did not exist in a vacuum but were connected to other cultural artifacts and forms of expression from the sciences, the arts, and the everyday.
Instead of trying to uncover the latest, the first, or most innovative histories within these discussions, it is possible to focus on what to some might be the mundane or everyday experiences of people and where games may or may not fit into their lives. However, not only does this allow us to create even more detailed, localized, regional histories, but it also allows us to see how games and play coexist among the other facets of our daily lives. For many that I interviewed, their histories of games and play moved within them and were often defined by where they lived or where they went on holiday, thus creating a further regional awareness of how and when games were experienced.
This regional awareness of everyday play and games can also be seen in the current Playing the Archive project that builds upon the work of Iona and Peter Opie.2 Not only does the project seek to understand present-day practices in the playground, it is also generating yet another insight into a history of digital and nondigital games of the everyday. Here, the histories of games emerge through various forms of observation and documentation. Different methods of how we record present-day practices and also revisit and re-present memories of play and games to the public become important as we navigate both of these landscapes.
Therefore, as much as capturing or remembering the everyday might seem like an impossible or even meaningless task, it is by recognizing moments of the everyday that we can start to situate past and present game practices. These moments open us up to new ideas, new connections, and new methods of recording, exhibiting and archiving games of then, of now, and of the future.