September 12 is listed as National Video Games Day! Okay, so it’s not exactly a real holiday, but it fits in nicely with my recent watch of the Netflix documentary series High Score narrated by Charles Martinet, aka, the voice of Mario. There’s a common misconception that libraries and librarians don’t align with video games, but I think you’ll find you’re mistaken. Using the power of our resources and collections here at Toledo Lucas County Public Library, you’ll find a bevy of video game materials, such as information on designing games, books about games, films and documentaries featuring video games, and yes, even websites where you can play video games for free. Just because we don’t have video games in the stacks doesn’t mean we don’t love them too!
To start off, there are a lot of interesting nonfiction books out there about gaming. For our purposes, I think that focusing on gaming history seems appropriate way to start for National Video Games Day. These tiles can give a lot of insight into some of the real trendsetting titles that have been released over the years. It really helps modern players appreciate how far the medium has come.
While this title was released in 2016, it still contains a solid history of the early days of gaming. It should be noted that not everything about the history of games can’t be contained in a single short volume like this one, but it’s a great introduction to the field if you want to know the general origin stories of how we got from playing games on oscilloscopes in university labs to the ubiquitous game platforms in our collective pockets.
Not about history of the medium but offers insight to the perceived value these artifacts have collected. This title is pretty much what it says on the cover: a guide for collectors. It’s also from 2016, so the pricing guides should be taken with a grain of salt, but it does include a lot of highlights about what makes some games and consoles desirable among the collecting fans.
This is a work inspired by A History of the World in 100 Objects which draws primarily from The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. It features all kinds of materials related to gaming, not just video games themselves. It’s a nice visual of some of the other influencing factors that have gone into game development over the last five decades.
This documentary film is a good introduction to gaming history. Perhaps a bit too ambitious, as they claim “From “Pong” to “Pac Man” and “Super Mario” to “Lara Croft”, “Doom”, “Grand Theft Auto” and everything in between – it’s the story of the videogame revolution.” Obviously, that’s a lot to attempt to squeeze into an hour and a half, but you’ll get the basics if you’re not familiar.
So now that you have some history resources on request or checked out, why not play some of the games that they might mention? I should note here that the games listed below are all selected from the reservoir of the Internet Archive (aka, Archive.org, which hosts all kinds of funstuff, and is listed as one of our research tools). TLCPL isn’t responsible for the availability and maintenance of these resources. It also seems worthwhile to say these games are best enjoyed at a desktop computer where you can make use of a keyboard and mouse. Keeping with my premise of having watched the documentary series High Score, I’ll feature games talked about on that series. Each episode is about a slightly different era of gaming, and all of the titles listed here were featured on the show. Now you can play them yourself and get a better idea of what it is they’re talking about. Or you can ignore the show entirely and just enjoy some older games.
Pac Man (Atari 2600 version)Often cited as partly responsible for the video game crash of 1983, Pac Man’s Atari 2600 release was a flop. Why do you want to play it? To see what all the fuss was about. This was simultaneously one of the most popular games and most disappointing games of the generation. It’s a poor imitation of what people wanted: as if you opened your pint of Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream to find it had been replaced with Great Value vanilla.
Donkey Kong (Ocean Software Conversion)
This is the game that took Nintendo from toy company to video game company. Nintendo originated in 1889, handily beating out any other video game company you can think of, but of course there were no video games back then; they began with handmade playing cards (called hanafuda). Donkey Kong was their runaway hit that turned them firmly into a video game company, and this conversion by Ocean Software did its best to bring the arcade cabinet version to the home computer.
This was the first computer adventure to feature graphics. Don’t get too excited: they’re limited to line drawings. The technology of the time limited the storage for home computer disks, so the graphics were rendered using points and letting the machine fill in the lines. This is a step up from previous adventures which were limited to text, similar to a choose your own adventure book. This was a primordial version of modern open-world games like The Elder Scrolls.
Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Classics 3 in 1 version)
Sonic the Hedgehog was designed to be a mascot for Sega in the same way that Mario is the mascot for Nintendo. It was part of a strategy to increase Sega’s competitive edge against the home gaming giant. The emphasis on speed stems from the Sega Genesis being a 16-bit console, therefore it was faster than the original Nintendo Entertainment System’s 8-bit chipset. (This particular version has Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine as a bonus.)
Mortal Kombat (Sega Genesis version)
Mortal Kombat was almost singlehandedly responsible for the invention of the ESRB (Electronic Software Ratings Board) due to the violence of these ‘realistic’ figures fighting and the associated gore. It was a big step at the time, using real actors and digitizing their kung fu for the game. Compared to the realism of modern games, it’s almost funny to think that parents were so upset over something not much more violent than Looney Tunes. Fighting games like this and Street Fighter really helped usher in the modern era of eSports, which is a whole topic for another time.
Doom (MS-DOS Version)
Both an early example of 3D gaming and online multiplayer, Doom was a true innovator. While it isn’t the first 3D game, it’s the game that pushed the technology as the way of gaming in the future. It was also widely vilified as another example of excessively violent gaming. This fact wasn’t helped when it was discovered that the shooters at Columbine were fans of the game, having used its ability to design custom levels to build a virtual version of their school.
Maybe by now you feel like you know a lot about games. You’re familiar with some history. You’ve played some of the oldies and thought “This looks pretty simplistic. I think could do that.” Well then, you’re in luck. TLCPL has invested a lot of resources into STEAM, and as a result, we can lead you on the path to learning to program your own games, if you so choose. The tricky part is that there are a lot of ways to make a game in the 21st century. The resources I’ve picked here are focused mostly on learning to code, as that’s where people begin on their quest to become the next indie game developer.
Although geared toward a younger audience, skills are still skills. If you’re a novice, you could gain a bit of understanding about the process and call it a day. If you’re looking to help a younger person get started in something you think they’re interested in, this is also a good choice. The downside here is that Scratch is specialized and designed explicitly for younger people to be able to get a basis for the more complicated ideas in coding, meaning it build fundamentals more than specialties.
This book has nothing to do with games in any explicit way. However, most big titles are coded in C++. For example, World of Warcraft, Doom, and a personal favorite, King’s Quest (a much-improved game from the same designer as Mystery House, Roberta Williams). This book, then, is a crash course to get you familiar with the language and hopefully on your way to building games. Bonus! We also offer access to the Prenda Code Club. This is a website designed to teach people ages 8-18 how to code all kinds of software, but I find it pretty entertaining as an adult too. You’ll want to start with their Parent’s Guide (even if you’re an adult who want to try, because it shows you how to make an account) and then sign in to the Code Club itself.
Alright, so there’s a lot to gaming. Who knew? It’s a fascinating topic area to me because it’s always perceived as something new and every generation seems to believe that they’re the first to love video games. Everything I’ve provided here should tell you a different story, which is that humans love to play, and that video games are a natural result of our technological achievements. We’re still on the early edge where some of the greatest innovators are alive to be interviewed and have their stories told. It’s as if we were able to interview the directors of early film.