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Longing and Digital Games

Longing is a desire that is often perceived as downright painful. We long for another being, for certain objects or places, or even for an idealized state. As an anthropological constant, longing has fascinated people from Plato to Hegel and continues to manifest itself prominently in artistic forms of expression and pop culture.

Digital games as works of art are also closely related to our personal, social, and political realities. In them, individual fates as well as social discourses or political agendas are taken up and processed. Therefore, it is not surprising that digital games also have many connections with the theme of longing.

In this exhibition, we focus on precisely these connections between longing and digital games. The exhibition is designed to be interactive and invites its visitors to explore different forms of longing with a great deal of curiosity.
Where do we encounter longing as an element that guides action on a narrative level?
How does the longing for the past influence the game’s aesthetics or mechanics? What longings do digital games evoke in us?
And which ones are they able to satisfy?

Idee, Produktion, Kuration, Szenografie, Grafik, Redaktion:
[we love old games]: Mascha Tobe & Philipp Frei

Projektmanagement CSM: Nicole Hanisch, Kristin Bahre
Ausstellungstechnik: Matthias Oborski Videoproduktion: Margarita Filipenko
In-Game-Fotografie: Felix Zimmermann Technik-Support: Tobias Hermann, Martin Wagner
Projektassistenz: Federico Lenzi, Raphael Giraldi, Lucas Maaser

Die Sonderschau entstand durch die Projektförderung "Perspektive Kultur".
Wir danken der Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa Berlin sehr herzlich für die Unterstützung.
Grafic: Philipp Frei

Starring: The Games

How the digital games entered our lives

The special exhibition „Starring: the Games“ allows the visitors to dive into an era, when computer games in conjunction with digital technologies conquered our everyday lives. This time travel begins with arcade video machines accessible to the public and then introduces home consoles from different decades. By playing the games on original machines set in authentically recreated environments visitors can play through the beginnings of our digital information society. Contemporary photos and personal accounts complement the picture of an epoch, when computers became part of popular culture.

BACKGROUND: Arcade Games

Before digital games conquered our private homes and our purses, arcade video games had an important role to play. They were the main medium helping to make games, already much loved in the seclusion of laboratories and universities, available to wider audiences. History shows a direct link between the space-shooter Spacewar! programmed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) in the year 1961 and the video arcade. For it was Nolan Bushell, later to become famous for founding Atari, who was one of the students fond of playing Spacewar! at the M.I.T. His game Computer Space, released in cooperation with Nutting Associates, an US company for arcade machines, was in fact a version of Spacewar! designed for arcades. This generated the industrial production of computer games for purely economical reasons. Integrated circuits (ICs) were still too expensive to be built into consoles sold to private users. Arcade machines on the other hand are bought by operators of such machines, who make their fortunes through the steady stream of coins from the players. These new digital machines were so enormously popular, that they soon came to replace traditional slot machines such as the pinball. Within months it became clear how profitable this new generation was. Thus the first arcades presenting only video machines were opened to carry consumers off into new realms. Traditional slot machines were located in rather nondescript environments, the video arcades on the other hand used flickering lights and loud colours already displayed on the monitors for interior decoration as well. In conjunction with the loud sounds accompanying the playing these establishments were soon known as „video game dens“. If you wanted to have first-hand experience of state-of-the-art games between the 1970s and the early 1990s you had to go there. Games that were hits in the arcades would subsequently be produced for home consoles, sold in growing numbers in the wake of the success of the arcade machines. But licencensing fees were high and the home consoles were yet unable to compete with the technical sophistication of the arcade machines, never being more than pale reflections of the arcade versions.
Not only being the realm for the commercial marketing of video games, the arcade also left its mark on the visual presentation of the early blockbusters.
In 1978 Space Invaders introduced the first high score lists. Players could thus receive an identity beyond the actual playing procedure. It also triggered them to leave their calling cards on the premises to be seen by other customers.
The actual game play was also very much shaped by the context of the arcade. Since profits were not made with epic and extensive games, developers produced short ones, so that players inserted yet another coin into the slot. Since the games were never to reach an ultimate goal, their plots tended to be minor variations of the motif of Sisyphus allowing for infinite repetition. A further incentive to play was the social situation in the arcade: often two players were competing with each other in front of an audience.
There is yet one more dimension, in which arcade machines left their mark on computer games. In the Federal Republic of Germany the 1984 amendment to the law for youth protection made operating video arcade machines in public spaces illegal. Like slot machines they could henceforth only be run on premises, where under-age persons were not permitted. Without doubt this change in the law strengthened the image of video games in West-Germany as being liable to corrupt the young.
Nowadays the classic video arcade has become a rarity anywhere in the world. Their technological advances compared to home consoles have dwindled long ago. If you can download a game for a small sum onto your mobile phone, you have little reason to leave home for visiting an arcade. Its social dimension is being substituted by online networks. However, it should be borne in mind, that current mobile applications often rely on games introduced when the arcade ruled, since their simplicity in terms of both the graphic design and the fundamental principles make them suitable for small monitors and for the casual playing in between.
Living room late 1970s


The US-American company Sanders Associates filing a patent application for the „Gaming and Training Apparatus“ (developed by Ralph H. Baer) in 1968 may count as the beginning of the epoch of home video games. However, the idea of employing a TV receiver for the purpose of interactive entertainment was so unfamiliar, that it took some more years, before Magnavox, another US-producer for consumer electronics, acquired Baer’s patent, which served as the basis for „Odyssey“. This was to become the first video console game to enter the shops in the year 1972.
Since the company wanted to sell „Odyssey“ at what was considered a moderate price then, it still contained traditional TV-technology. But only a few years later the appliances came to be equipped with ICs (integrated circuits): „Pong“ – published by Atari in 1975 – was the first game to employ this new technology. It was a reproduction of a successful arcade machine of that very name, now targeted at the home consumer market.
The microchip AY-3-8500 by General Instruments (USA) must count as the next milestone. It was introduced on the market in 1976 and one of the first microchips produced on a mass scale, meaning that production costs were extremely low, if compared to previous technologies. This device was built into many different consoles and thus came to be sold all over the world.
The next step in the evolution was separating the software from the hardware – the standard ever since then. With a „Pong“-console you could only play that very game, which was firmly integrated into the hardware. The Video Computer System (VCS) from Atari changed all that in 1977. Now you could purchase different and newly developed games to be played on the device.
From the early 1980s onwards home computers became a standard household implement. To a large extent this was due to their ability for playing games, which in turn shaped the development of these games. From now on complex games could be steered with the help of a full keyboard and, thanks to growing storage capacities, be played in different sessions across a time span.
Children’s room latter half of the 1980s
A success model is copied
Atari’s Home Pong success soon found many imitators. From 1976 the globe literally was swamped with consoles by different manufacturers. This boom became possible through the development of a special microchip having the Pong game firmly built-in. This chip was sold by General Instruments from the beginning of 1976.
Due to its cheap price amounting to only 5 US dollars consoles could now be produced economically and in bulks. However, demand was so high that General Instruments was not able to deliver the ordered quantities to each company. The chip also explains why more than hundred models were nearly identical and differed only slightly.
Beside the classical Pong another tree variants were built-in. These games among others were called Baseball, Football or Basketball and had only a minimally changed Pong game pattern. Additionally, the chip included two shooting variants where the gamer could shoot at a light point moving on the screen. The gun was available as optional extra. The boom was to continue for a short time only, since the programmable consoles soon to be released were more attractive to gamers in the long run.
The dominating video game system of the 70ies and early 80ies
In 1976 it became clear that the business with home-Pong-consoles drew to an end.
The future seemed to be in programmable systems.
Of course Atari wanted to strengthen their market-dominating position in digital entertainment with an own programmable unit. Since the still young firm did not have the money for this, founder Nolan Bushnell sold it to the entertainment giant Warner Communications for the then huge sum of $28 million.
Now equipped with a high budget the Atari developers really landed a big coup with the brillant VCS. Thanks to its technical superiority (and thanks to the high marketing budget by Warner) it quickly developed into the dominating video game system.
One of the reasons for this success was that it contained adaptations of popular Atari arcade hits. But also many third-party manufacturers produced for this platform. It is said that there had been more games for the VCS available in 1983 than for all other systems together at that time. Counting also the later newly designed variant 2600 jr., which was identical in construction, 25 million pieces were produced altogether until 1991 (!).
Hobby room early 1980s

BACKGROUND Home computers

By Michael Lang, former editor-in-chief of „Happy Computer“, the first German magazine on computing launched in 1983 (guest contribution)
Steadily increasing numbers of hobbyists using computers meant a growing market for private computers. Thus the business was changing, first barely perceptible, but in due time it would be a thorough transformation with a similar development observable in the USA. The motives of the “newbies” for engaging with computers differed substantially from those of the experts. Instead of decisions pertaining to career and other professional matters, questions of leisure and playing came to the fore. This was reflected in changing desires to buy, but it also entailed the development of computers, since these new buyers were by no means just passive consumers. Many of them turned out to be gifted programmers or designers of hardware. Their new ideas brushed aside a great many sacred cows of computer science.
Since their impulse for dealing with computers was mainly connected to creativity or entertainment, most of the programs developed by the hobbyists pertained to entertainment or games. However, the requirements for hardware and software in this field by far exceeded that for applications developed for professional use. This challenge was of particular lure for the hobbyists and on the other hand an attraction hard to comprehend for the old guard of professional computer scientists. The latter viewed colour monitors with a certain suspicion, let alone graphic interfaces or similar “useless stuff”.
In the realm of newspapers this about-turn of the hobbyists towards home computers yielded two processes: A host of new magazines on the subject of computing began to appear, while the demise of magazines on electronics set in.
When launching “Happy Computer” in 1983 we felt bound to two principle rules: For a start we wanted to prove that computers are fun and much more then mere number crunchers. Secondly we wanted to take a firm stance against all the heated factional struggles, flourishing then among proponents of different brands such as Commodore, Atari and the rest of the computing world.
We thought these petty skirmishes were counterproductive. Instead of drawing lines of demarcation producers should, in our opinion, look for common ground and consider questions of compatibility between system components and periphery devices from different brands. We knew only mass production could lower retail prices at a time when many readers were still not able to afford this technology. Thus from the start we endorsed companies like Amstrad and Schneider, for their computers were run on open and moderately standardised operating softwares (at that time the CP/M-operations-system).
A second policy of ours was to give clear support to smaller brands, thus advocating a plurality of different solutions (in addition to recommending open standards). This included recommending pure consumer goods like watches based on microchips as well as the first game consoles in the late 1980s. By the beginning of the 1990s we were advocating long-distance data transmission and mailboxes (the precursors of the internet).
Thus “Happy Computer” was the first computing magazine addressed to non-professionals, precursor of many publications for private consumers on the theme of computers available today. Small wonder, that “Power Play”, the first German magazine on computer games, was a spin-off from the games’ section initially presented in “Happy Computer”.
Special Ehibition
Karl-Marx-Allee 93a
10243 Berlin

Phone (visitor service):
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