Monthly Archives: August 2019

What Nolan Said: Needs vs. Wants.

Nolan Bushnell founded Atari, and when he left the company he tried his hand at a myriad of start-up attempts.  He had a particular obsession with robotics, from developing the animatronic animals in his Pizza Time Theatre restaurant chain, to household robot company Androbot, to the Axlon company responsible for the oddball scheme he is shilling here in the picture used for today’s What Nolan Said:

The picture is of Bushnell presenting a “Petster” to a crowd at the New York Toy Fair in 1985.  You can see the Catster version rolling around at the bottom of the image; they also released a dog, hamster and even spider edition of the toys.  The idea was to sell robotic animals to people who want to have a pet, but don’t care for the shedding or the pooping or the bringing of dead mice to the door as an offering to the master.  At the time, Bushnell was barking up the wrong tree, and the prohibitively priced Petster line went nowhere. Petster did, however, help sow the seeds for spatially aware household robotics such as the Roomba and other robotic vacuum cleaners.

In the picture, even Nolan seems perplexed he’s standing there trying to sell the idea that people would have this particular want.  I’ll leave you with a TV spot showing the Petster in action. At the end of this article, find a YouTube video of a Petster advertisement.

For more information on Nolan Bushnell and the foundation of Atari, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

source:  Computer Entertainment magazine, “Bulletin Board, Bushnell’s Pet Project”, pg. 8 June 1985

This article was originally posted to The Dot Eaters on Jan. 23, 2013

C. Everett Koop, former U.S. Surgeon General

What C. Everett Koop Thought About Video Game Violence

Every once in awhile, in the wake of a terrible mass shooting occuring in the United States (aka, a Tuesday), some in the hand-wringing news media trot out the ridiculous and long-debunked trope that video games could have been a reason for such an action. So, every once in awhile, we have to remind people of the fallacy of such an argument, with articles such as this one, originally posted to The Dot Eaters on Feb. 27, 2013.

As the first “superstar” Surgeon General of the United States, C. Everett Koop held a lot of sway over public opinion when it came to health issues in the 1980’s.  With his passing on Monday at the age of 96, one figures he must have had some knowledge on the subject of longevity.

Koop took what was previously a relatively obscure governmental position and used his pulpit (pun intended; Koop was an evangelical Presbyterian), to push some important health issues into the fore, including critical education on the subject of the then burgeoning AIDS epidemic, as well as the lethality of smoking.  It’s hard to criticize a man who fought so tirelessly in his surgical career to correct infant birth defects, who then went on to evangelize against stigmatizing AIDS victims and the promotion of inherently dangerous products by the tobacco industry, but when it came to the topic of the effect of video games on children, Koop was dead wrong.

Flyer for Death Race, cause of violence controversy, an arcade video game by Exidy 1976

Flyer for Death Race, the 1976 arcade game by Exidy that started the fear of videogame violence

 

He addressed a conference of public-health workers at the University of Pittsburgh in 1982 on the topic of family violence, and afterwards during a press conference he directly implicated video games as a main contributing factor of intrafamily violence, along with television and the poor economic conditions the country was facing at the time.  For video games, he said:

[children] are into the games body and soul – everything is zapping the enemy.  Children get to the point where when they see another child being molested by a third child, they just sit back.

It was the ever-popular “desensitized to violence” argument, and it flew in the face of reputable studies that refused to reinforce the idea that consumption of media can be said to be a main cause of real-life violence, either in adults or children.  Koop himself, of course, did not cite any evidence to back up his claim, and it seems wildly irresponsible for such a notable public figure, who relished the ability to effect dramatic changes on U.S. health issues, to so baldy present the public with a red-herring as to the causes of family violence.  Koop knew he could address any of the real factors: exposure to abuse as a child, alcohol abuse, an indifferent education system, personality disorders.  There’s a shopping list of societal ills that could have accompanied poor economic conditions as reasons for family violence.  Instead Koop decided to demonize video games as a causative factor.

Sure, Koop later stepped back from his initial comments, stating that there has been no causal link shown with video games and youth violence. But his initial comments helped take America’s eye off the ball as to solving the real causes of societal violence in the country, and for that it should be considered a grave misdiagnosis in Koop’s career as “America’s Doctor”.

For more information on the history of video game violence, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Screenshot of Pong

PONG Turns 40

This article was originally posted to The Dot Eaters on Nov. 29, 2012

On November 29, 1972, a recently incorporated company in California named Atari announced the release of its first product, an electronic video arcade game called PONG.  Two players would stand at the wood-grain and yellow cabinet, twiddling the control knobs that moved two paddles displayed on a B&W TV screen.  With the paddles they would play an electronically abstract game of table tennis, batting a little white blip back and forth in an attempt to “Avoid Missing Ball For High Score”, as the simple gameplay instructions prompted.

Conceived by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell and designed by Al Alcorn, Pong was a smash success, giving birth to the video game industry.  Fast-forward nearly 40 years later, in 2011 that industry was worth US$65 billion dollars.

Ad for a Pong-type home kit, Visulex 1975

This newfangled electronic Ping Pong thing comes home, 1975

 

Among other celebrations of Pong’s 40th birthday, an attempt to enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest game of Pong was made on Nov. 16, 2012.  A 22-story version of the game, complete with festive lighting, was played on the side of the Downtown Marriott hotel in Kansas City, MO.

In a lead-up to the anniversary, earlier this year Atari announced the Pong Indie Developer Challenge.  Offering a grand prize of up to $100,000, the company solicited independent app developers to submit their take on the venerable Pong.  The three winners were announced on Aug. 2, and they will participate in a profit sharing scheme divided between the three Pong apps that will see them collect royalties up to the winning prize amounts.  The top winner, the freemium-based PONG World by zGames, can be snagged at the iOS App Store here.

Pong put Atari on the road to becoming the fastest growing company in American history.  It’s no stretch to consider that when you say Pong is 40 years-old today, you’re also saying the video game industry is 40 years-old.  So like those tipsy patrons of Andy Capp’s bar in Sunnyvale California, who played the original Pong prototype until it broke and convinced Bushnell and Atari to produce the game commercially, raise a glass to the grand-daddy of the video game industry.  Your serve, PONG!

You can play an updated version of PONG online at Atari.com for free.

For more information on the history of Pong and Atari, consult your local Dot Eaters article