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Early Years of Computer Gaming: Steve Russell and Nolan Bushnell (2002) [video] (youtube.com)
44 points by masswerk 60 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 7 comments



> Bushnell later bought out Dabney, who was forced out after Nolan told him he would transfer all the assets to another corporation and leave Ted with nothing.

This is an interesting juxtaposition with 'Dirty tricks 6502 programmers used.'


Nolan Bushnell has a fairly extensively documented history of sexual harassment and sexist behavior.

His achievements are definitely there, but it's important to also have the context that they likely came with impact to others.

I bring this up because until very recently I wasn't aware of it, and I think there's an interesting thread to follow from Nolan's behavior and company culture, through the development and marketing scene of games in the 90s, to today.


From interviews with women employed at Atari: https://kotaku.com/sex-pong-and-pioneers-what-atari-was-real...

> Many interviewees said it was the best job they ever had, adding that news of Bushnell’s rescinded award struck them as shocking or unfair.

> “It’s drive-by assassination,” said Loni Reeder, who worked at Atari for two years and, later, co-founded a company with Bushnell. “I think there’s an element of telephone being played. Every day was not a wet t-shirt contest.” Reeder added, “There’s a collective anger amongst us toward the individuals who made this a big deal.”

> And 26 years after she first walked onto that Pong assembly line, Elaine Shirley took another job, one where her new boss often lost his temper and yelled. She tried to quit in her first meeting with him. “I told him, I came from a company where everyone was nice, not mean,” she said. About a quarter of the women I interviewed said that they can claim #MeToo, but that their time at Atari had nothing to do with it.

> Mireille Chevalier said she happily attended Atari’s hot tub parties and went on dates with colleagues. “Nolan was never, ever bothering me,” she said. “If a woman wanted to go out with Nolan, it was their business. It was never pressure. I went out with one of the directors for 10 years.” “Where are you going to meet a man when you’re young?” Chevalier said. “We didn’t have the internet. We used to meet our boyfriends at work.”

Those criticizing Atari and Bushnell do so from a position 40 years removed, and through the lens of secondhand accounts. The people who worked with him firsthand paint a very different picture.


His "fairly extensively documented history of sexual harassment" stems almost exclusively from the words of a contemporary video game developer, Brianna Wu, who formed this perspective based on secondhand accounts. Interviews with the people who were at Atari at the time of the alleged sexist behavior disagreed with the categorization.

In my view this is not sufficient to warrant scrubbing people's names from our historical memory.


> In my view this is not sufficient to warrant scrubbing people's names from our historical memory.

Did someone suggest doing that? I said it's important to contextualize his work, not to write him out. You are arguing against a position I don't hold.

> Interviews with the people who were at Atari at the time of the alleged sexist behavior disagreed with the categorization

Nolan himself went on record in 2012 in Playboy describing a wild atmosphere and describing one of his employees as 'stacked', the 2001 book The Ultimate History of Video Games describes his attitude, Nolan told the San Francisco Chronicle "Some ladies feel comfortable around me, some don't."


>> there's an interesting thread to follow from Nolan's behavior and company culture, through the development and marketing scene of games in the 90s, to today.

What is that? Whenever I think of Atari, I think of the amazing innovation in both game play and hardware. Sometimes names come up, like David Theurer or Carol Shaw, but not so much Bushnell for anything other than founding the company. At times I have thought some of their games designers were either insane geniuses or taking some kind of drugs (I, Robot for example). What is this thread you see?


The thread I see is companies with wild cultures dominating the early years of games development. Nolan, for instance, once went on the record describing one of his employees as 'stacked'. By the time the 90s rolled around, there's a glut of advertising that targets nearly exclusively young men, using sex to sell games (often when the themes are totally unrelated.) There are countless reference pieces for this, even Nintendo who today has a family friendly vibe put out a gameboy ad that featured a bound woman in lingerie.

In the 90s, we saw an explosion of gaming, mostly picked up by young men. It became perceived as a boy's hobby, something girls didn't/shouldn't want to do. Jump ahead 10 years and games are taking off professionally. We've segmented our markets into 'core' and 'casual' gamers, and we're starting to see esports become a thing. Demographically, the professional gamers are still overwhelmingly men.

Around this time, marketing became more broad and moved away from 'sex sells' and more towards 'good games sell'. Ubisoft attempts to inspire change by sponsoring the 'Frag Dolls', a cyberathlete team of women. Sure, there's still plenty of sex splashing across ads in the industry, but many of the big players are trying to reach a wider audience.

Jump ahead to today and you'll see women on Twitch participating in basically every game out there. From Starcraft to Rainbow Six, Planet Coaster to Stellaris. The competitive scene is starting to see women rise in the ranks, with top8 positions on stages like EVO and IEM.

When I look at art, I look at who made it and who it is for. What stories and backgrounds led to the construction of the piece. What informed it's creation.

Look at "This War of Mine" or "Papers Please" or "VA-11 HALL-A" or "Dream Daddy" or "Life is Strange". For games like that to be made, you need creators who come from different backgrounds. My belief is that we're only recently starting to see works like this emerge because many of the people who made them may have felt like outsiders a decade or two ago, and are only now starting to be welcomed in.




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