Playing to Win: Sports, Video Games, and the Culture of Play

Playing to Win: Sports, Video Games, and the Culture of Play

Playing to Win: Sports, Video Games, and the Culture of Play

Playing to Win: Sports, Video Games, and the Culture of Play

Synopsis

In this era of big media franchises, sports branding has crossed platforms, so that the sport, its television broadcast, and its replication in an electronic game are packaged and promoted as part of the same fan experience. Editors Robert Alan Brookey and Thomas P. Oates trace this development back to the unexpected success of Atari's Pong in the 1970s, which provoked a flood of sport simulation games that have had an impact on every sector of the electronic game market. From golf to football, basketball to step aerobics, electronic sports games are as familiar in the American household as the televised sporting events they simulate. This book explores the points of convergence at which gaming and sports culture merge.

Excerpt

Perhaps one of the most persistent legends of the early video game industry involves the installation of a prototype of the Pong game in a Sunnyvale, California, bar named Andy Capp’s in September 1972. Two weeks after the game was installed, Atari engineer Al Alcorn got a call from the bar manager, complaining that the game was broken and requesting that it be hauled off the premises. When Alcorn went to investigate the problem, he discovered the machine was jammed and overflowing with quarters. This story certainly has all the trappings of a corporate myth, but it offers an event marking the beginning of the rise of Atari as a leader in the video game industry. Given the significantly diminished status of Atari and its recent bankruptcy, it is important to remember Atari’s former prominence. In other words, this story about Andy Capp’s also marks an important moment for the video game industry in general.

Yet there is another important point about this event that is often overlooked: if Pong was one of the first successful commercial video games, then one of the first successful video games was a sports simulation game. We can anticipate the snickering this observation might inspire. After all, Pong was incredibly primitive, and table tennis (or PingPong) enjoys a dubious place in the pantheon of sports – it’s right up there with badminton and croquet. We could counter that Ping-Pong was used to open a diplomatic relationship between the United States and China in 1971, just over a year prior to the installation of the Pong machine at Andy Capp’s. Our point, however, is not about the legitimacy of Ping-Pong as a sport, but rather the importance of sports to the . . .

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