Unexceptional Consoles, a paper Alex Custodio and I wrote about relatively uncelebrated videogames, is now up at Game Studies. We talk about Radioshack TV Scoreboards, Pong-likes, early handhelds, and more! This article is part of our ongoing work at the Residual Media Depot, where we catalogue, maintain, & modify computers and videogames.
This article proposes the study of unexceptional consoles — devices that have been relatively uncelebrated by either the public or the academy and thus sit outside the standard canon of game history. From Radioshack’s ill-defined Electronic TV Scoreboards to the multifarious Pong consoles released in the seventies, these devices exist in multiplicities and often lack robust documentation and distinct naming conventions, subsumed as they are under brand titles or else obfuscated by marketing technobabble. This dearth of documentation makes it difficult for scholars to archive, access, study, or even identify these objects. Such a gap recursively contributes to these consoles’ ongoing absence from much of videogame history. Lacking the distinct separation between hardware and software found in modern consoles, ill-defined in corporate documentation, and often conflated with similar devices, unexceptional consoles evade easy platform definitions and methods. This article begins by summarizing the problematic that spurred the development of this research project: the inconsistencies between (and within) industry, user and scholarly discourses that establish the names of videogame consoles. Next, it fleshes out the idea of unexceptional consoles, drawing upon existing platform studies scholarship, broader discussions of the canon in games and literature and material investigations into videogame technologies. Then, using the devices in the Magnavox Odyssey line as a case study, this article offers an overview of the discourses that guide certain devices toward prestige and others to mundanity. The analysis closes with a short reflection on how the notion of unexceptional consoles may foster new approaches to thinking about videogame history.
This article was a fun one to write, as Alex and I have spent the past half decade (!) working with the Residual Media Depot’s collection and learning more about 70s-90s home computing technologies. It gave us an opportunity to discuss the struggles we had cataloguing the Depot’s older devices – some of which even predate the idea of “video games” in the popular imagination. We’re also super happy that Game Studies is open access, meaning this article will be free to read in perpetuity!
Citation: Custodio, A., & Iantorno, M. (2023). Unexceptional Consoles. Game Studies, 23(3). https://gamestudies.org/2303/articles/custodioiantorno