Monday, May 10, 2010


All this writing about time travel must've caused me to fall into some kind of time-hole over the weekend, as evidenced by the above black-and-white picture of me playing an Atari 2600. Actually, that's not true; it's just another of the pieces on exhibit at MOCA (my--I never get tired of saying this--neighborhood museum of contemporary art). Scott and I had another Visiting Poet in town over the weekend, Zachary Schomburg (actually, I found this picture--and copy it here without his permission--on his blog), who is a very exciting young poet and all around awesome guy.

Zach currently lives in Portland--though he's been on the road for a while now--so, personally, it was nice to be reminded that there are young people like me in the world (he's maybe 5-6 years older than I am). For someone as blandly hipster-ish as I am, it's actually possible to feel somewhat unique in Miami, but there are really entire cities and communities of people just like me in other parts of the country. So it's good to remember that (though--and this kind of came up in conversation, as it often will when discussing Portland and the aforementioned people-like-me--it's hard to make a strong argument, or any argument, that I should somehow prefer Portland, or prefer Miami, except that Portland is, like, the whitest city ever, and Miami has lots and lots of diversity (the moral being that I should both recognize my inherent blandness, Miami's awesome different-ness, and just get over all of it already)). And his poetry--a lot of short, often prose-poems, surreal narratives--is great! You should check out his books and his press, Octopus Books.

While playing the Atari game/artwork at the museum, Scott, who is also in his early thirties (I am not in my early thirties, but Scott and Zach are), said to me something to the extent of "You've probably never even played an Atari before, have you?" One of those generation of five-years-later kind of things. But, of course I was able to reply, emphatically, "I certainly have! Back around the turn of the nineties, my older brothers and I asked for a Nintendo. In response to this, our father went up into the attic and came down with an Atari, so we played that for a while, until one of the paddles broke, and then, I think, finally Dad caved and bought us a Nintendo." Which is a fun story to tell.


Blogger nate said...

I think the most important artistic question there is, how many points did you get up to in that installation?

I, like you, appreciate that we got to be the tail end of the Atari generation based on the historical accident of that being much cheaper than a Nintendo. (I feel like we sound really ungrateful to our parents here too. It's worth reiterating, as Pete mentioned, that they did spring for the damn Nintendo pretty quickly.) It was one of the joysticks that broke, though, not a paddle. The busted paddle we could have lived with -- we didn't have Pong and I'm pretty sure Breakout only had a one-player mode -- but losing the joystick meant no Combat, which had the longest-lasting appeal for us. Anyway, I feel like some firsthand home-computing experience with Space Invaders et. al. is a useful cultural heritage to have, especially because (as I've documented to some extent) I've never really gotten into games other than the ones I played as a kid.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in the art of the Atari, a solid and engrossing book on the subject is Racing the Beam by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost. I don't think it gels around its stated program of analyzing how the technical restraints of the Atari platform shaped the artistic or cultural qualities of the games written for it, but I think it provides a good early history of the video game industry and a lot of specific detail on why Atari games look the way they do. (The technical details are pitched at a general audience but it's probably tough in places if you're not familiar with the basics of computer memory, or comfy wikipedia-ing that sort of thing.) There's a good deal that's remarkable in it, most of all that the Atari 2600 was an underpowered home computer (even for its time) specifically designed for Pong-like ball-and-paddle games that nonetheless served for a proliferation of games for years longer than its expected lifetime. Also I think it's generally fun to learn about the video game crash of 1983.

I'll check out Zach's work sometime. I keep thinking I need to stock my reading list with stuff other than what's on the NY Times book review or the popular-neuroscience books shouted out on Radiolab.

5/11/2010 9:09 PM  

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