The history of entertainment technologies, so the media and technology industries would have us believe, is best framed as a series of creative and technological triumphs, moving inexorably toward faster processing, increasingly realistic graphics and more engaging forms of interactivity. Like the film industry, game companies would probably prefer we didn’t think in terms of history at all, choosing instead to situate themselves on the brink of a perpetual future, looking forward to the next big thing rather than contemplating how we got here. Heroic attempts to recapture some of the rapidly fading history of the game industry – from JC Herz’s Joystick Nation to Van Burnham’s Supercade – have appeared from time to time, but usually with a focus on North American and Pacific Rim game industries and always seeking to map a comprehensive history of progress toward the present.
However, the stories that historians choose to tell about the past are often inextricably entangled with their own personality quirks and idiosyncratic obsessions. If we are honest about it, the narratives we pursue probably consist of as many dead-ends, digressions and anachronies as neatly packaged elements of a grand historical narrative. It is a rare work of history that not only acknowledges this, but seeks to weave it into the fabric of the historical work itself, becoming a strength rather than a liability. So it is with Melanie Swalwell’s Cast-Offs From the Golden Age, created in collaboration with Vectors Art Director Erik Loyer.
In order to experience the largely unexamined history of video games in New Zealand, Swalwell asks us to retrace some of her steps – and occasional missteps – in seeking to discover this arcane and fragmented history. Swalwell’s project refuses to deliver a comprehensive history, choosing instead to allegorize the research process by embedding bits of information within an information space. The implication is that, following Michel Foucault, all history is rightly conceived of in terms of fragmentation and partiality. The seductive narrative of the definitive, totalizing history is both mendacious and misleading. Swalwell’s investigation is part exploration and part role-playing-game, as different facts reveal themselves with each traversal of the research space. Although probably a source of frustration for “Dragnet historians” (those hoping to receive “just the facts”), the rewards of engaging fully with the dynamics of Swalwell and Loyers possibility space are as formidable as that of any totalizing historical narrative.Posted by sanderson in editorial on Jun 30th, 2009