The first Issue of Zzap!, 1986.
A new project
My project for 2016-2017 (and possibly beyond) is to trace, gather and make sense of the histories of video games in Italy. I have received a post-doc fellowship from Università di Torino to do it, so this will be my main commitment for the foreseeable future.
Why histories rather than history? A broad theoretical reason (I’ll keep it short), and then to the meat of it.
There is no such thing as one media history. There might be no such thing as one history in general (ask him), but it’s even more complicated for media. For example, when one tries to write down the history of a medium diligently and in an orderly fashion, other media get in the way. So, the history of video games is also the history of the TV set, the history of vector-based screens, the history of microprocessors, the history of box art illustrations, and so on infinitum. To say it with him, “there are no media, but rather always only multimedia systems”. While tracing the histories of video game in Italy, I will have to carve out those that are relevant to me from this entanglement of technology, uses, discourses, products, and designs.
So, how will I do it? The tentative answer is: three methods, and three subjects.
Method number one: Interviews. In the last thirty years or so, Italy’s game industry evolved from a peculiar and rather insular phenomenon to a well-established hub of digital creativity. I will interview both the prime movers and the newcomers, in the hope that they will help me trace a profile of Italy’s video game production culture.
Method number two: Archives. I have worked in video game related archives in the past, and agree with Guins when he rhetorically asks whether game studies is “somehow exempt from the expectation that archival research — long considered a requirement for astute, rigorous, and credible scholarship in many fields — will be carried out”. There’s no reason to bypass rigorous archival research when dealing with the history in video games. So, off to Bologna.
Method number three: Encountering things. Archives are a great source of material. But unarchived stuff, found outside of archives, in private collections, flea markets, Internet repositories, on line auctions, is sometimes as valuable. Opening up old games, both materially and metaphorically, and looking at the ways in which they were designed and built, their relation to the conditions out of which they were produced, is a way to deal with this medium, that usually bears great results.
Simulmondo’s Dylan Dog, an early case of transmedia storytelling, 1992
Zelda’s Triforce, Lacan’s Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real, the Lord of The Rings Trilogy, the three Stooges. Things work better in a trio (proof of the poor performance of both one and two is here). So, three subjects. Or, more precisely, three perspectives on the histories of video games in Italy.
Subject number one: A history of production. As of today, there is no comprehensive study of the history of the Italian video game industry. It is a complex weaving of professional and amateur developers, large companies and proto-indies, world’s firsts (see, for example, one of the earliest cases of transmedia storytelling…) and rip-offs. It is a fascinating history that needs to be told.
Subject number two: Style. Is there an Italian way of making games? A precise style, a form of game design that is uniquely Italian, or that was developed via reciprocal influences and cross-pollination by italian developers? One needs to play a lot of games and ask a lot of questions to find out.
Subject number three: Discourses. As excellently demonstrated by Kirkpatrick, the history of video games was informed by the discourses produced by communities of players, non-players, producers and critics. These apparently ephemeral pieces of the larger social discourse on media and technology can be found scattered in specialized magazines, newspapers, instant books, blog posts, and are a fascinating barometer of the salience of games in the wider cultural conversation. What kinds of discourses on games were produced in Italy?
Santaragione’s Mirrormoon EP, 2013
So, there you have it
This is what I am planning to do. If you are an Italian designer, developer, producer, player, and feel you might have some insight on the histories that I am working on, feel free to contact me. If you are interested in the project, check this space every now and then, as I will update it with interesting findings and other bits of my research as I go along.