Joystick Nation: How Videogames Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts, and Rewired Our Minds

Joystick Nation: How Videogames Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts, and Rewired Our Minds

by J. C. Herz

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Joystick Nation: How Videogames Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts, and Rewired Our Minds by J. C. Herz

In a scant fifteen years, video and computer games have grown into a $6-billion-a-year global industry, sucking up ever-increasing amounts of leisure time and disposable income. In arcades, living rooms, student dorms, and (admit it) offices from Ohio to Osaka, video games have become a fixture in people's lives, marking a tectonic shift in the entertainment landscape.

Now, as Hollywood and Silicon Valley rush to sell us online interactive multimedia everything, J. C. Herz brings us the first popular history and critique of the video-game phenomenon. From the Cold War computer programmers who invented the first games (when they should have been working) to the studios where the networked 3-D theme parks of the future are created, Herz brings to life the secret history of Space Invaders, Pac Man, Super Mario, Myst, Doom, and other celebrated games. She explains why different kinds of games have taken hold (and what they say about the people who play them) and what we can expect from a generation that has logged millions of hours vanquishing digital demons.

Written with 64-bit energy and filled with Herz's sharp-edged insights and asides, Joystick Nation is a fascinating pop culture odyssey that's must-reading for media junkies, pop historians, and anyone who pines for their old Atari.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316360074
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 06/01/1997
Edition description: 1 ED
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)
Age Range: 13 Years

Table of Contents

Prologue 1(4)
Chapter 1 Primitive Blips
Chapter 2 A Natural History of Videogames
Chapter 3 The Madonna/Whore Complex of Consumer Electronics
Chapter 4 A la Recherche du Arcades Perdu
Chapter 5 The Classics
Chapter 6 Why Doom Rules
Chapter 7 Virtual Construction Workers
Chapter 8 Ditties of the Apocalypse
Chapter 9 Cartridge Wars
Chapter 10 Videogame Porn
Chapter 11 Mario XXXber Alles
Chapter 12 Having a Wonderful Time ... Wish I Were Here
Chapter 13 Superhero Sushi
Chapter 14 Boys versus Girls
Chapter 15 Moral Kombat
Chapter 16 The Military-Entertainment Complex
Chapter 17 Sim Society
Acknowledgments 225(1)
Index 226


On Wednesday, July 2, welcomed J. C. Herz, author of JOYSTICK NATION.

Alice from Baltimore, Maryland: J.C. -- What is your all-time favorite video game and why? Or name a few of say, your top ten, if you can't name just one.

J. C. Herz: Missile Command, no question. It was the ultimate Reagan era apocalyptic fantasy -- ICBMs raining down from outer space. The end of the world. To a little kid, this is endlessly fascinating.

Todd Reid from New York: What first got you interested in the sociological effects of video games?

J. C. Herz: Took a trip back home, dug out my old toys, and there was the Atari 2600. Nostalgia fest. And I thought, well, 50 million people grew up with these. It has to have made some kind of impact. So . . . Plus, everyone was asking me to write about digital media. And videogames were the first digital medium.

Allan Fox from Park Slope: what systems do you own? e.g. Playstation? Do you own any stand alone games? What do you recommend as being the best on the market in terms of systems?

J. C. Herz: I mostly just hang out in arcades -- they're way more interesting from an anthropological standpoint. And they have the coolest machines. Current faves Gunblade and Alpine Racer.

Janet Jet from Penna: HeyHey J.C. Herz! How long did it take to research this book? Were people receptive to your questions and requests for interviews?

J. C. Herz: The book, from initial idea to final edits, took about two years. EVERYONE wanted to talk about videogames. The programmers. Former videogame junkies. Artists. Computer musicians. It was a riot. People seem to have a fairly heavy emotional response when you bring up the subject.

Prof. J. Rager from Amherst, MA: This summer I am preparing to teach a liberal studies CS class (cross with an Am Studs colleague) in the fall that covers the boom of the personal computer, video games, etc, up through to the present 'digital age' we are experiencing. I have read your work, and have a keen interest in including it in my recommended texts, but in the meantime, I was wondering what other reading you might recommend I do -- I am looking for anything from good fiction to techie books, but it is a interdis freshmen class so I want to go on the lighter and interesting side . . .

J. C. Herz: There are a zillion tech books out there -- just don't assign anything written by a media consultant or someone who bills himself as a professional futurologist. As far as fiction, I would recommend books that create virtual worlds of their own -- that deal with the ambiguity between the waking world and a dream, or fiction and nonfiction. Because these are the key issues when you're building something in virtual reality. Strongly recommend Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.

Rory from Florida: Hey J.C., I have three questions for you 1) I am going to try to create a book of commentaries (I am going into the 8th grade at the end of August), but I want to know where to start. Should I research? Think of what commentaries I want to write? What should I do? 2) How do you overcome writer's block? 3) Do you think the Nintendo company will stop at Nintendo 64?

J. C. Herz: 1) Whatever you're passionate about, that's what you should research. And READ tons. That helps more than anything. 2) Not personally afflicted with writer's block. There's just basic laziness, and the solution to that is to get off your ass and start working. 3) Nintendo will stop at nothing.

t.c. from n.y.c.: having spent so much time emersed in pop culture, are you a comic book reader as well? and if so, what are your favorite series?

J. C. Herz: I'm not a maniac about comix, but I make the periodic sweep through a Japanese anime in New York. I get more out of manga than out of Western-style comix. Maybe it's the frisson of a cross-cultural experience. But probably just nostalgia for Speed Racer.

Allison Kent from san fran: Directed more to your SURFING ON THE INTERNETI work in New Media marketing, and it seems as though there are two camps of online users, those who come login with a specific purpose, and those who could spend (and do spend) hours traveling link to link. What are your thought on marketing a product (a site, a service) in a medium that speaks to its users in so many different voices. Are online links the key? Print listings? Advertising? What do you think is the most effective way of marketing New Media.

J. C. Herz: 1) Service 2) Service 3) Service

And barring that, a really good videogame. If you:

J. C. Herz:

JulieAnn from What video games are the most popular among women?

J. C. Herz: They're usually games that are less homicide-oriented Tetris. SimCity. Myst. A bunch of the old '80s games were popular with girls -- Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, Frogger. There's a whole chapter about this in the book -- but it's a fairly complicated discussion. Race out and grab a copy. And if you order now you also get this amazing set of Ginsu knives.

Mark from NYC: Do you think electronic entertainment will ever just get flat out boring to a generation of kids who is so used to it? I mean, is Little League going to survive, or what?

J. C. Herz: Fear not for Little League -- kids will always need to get out and stretch their legs. The principal victim of videogames is broadcast television, which is why the networks are wringing their hands and crying over the latest Nielsen numbers. Personally, I think anything that cuts TV time is a boon to society.

Cathy A.G.H. from Larchmont: My kids aren't allowed to have video games as a house rule, I just don't believe in their creative power. But when they go to friends homes for playdates, I have no control. They play as they may on whatever entertainment system the other kids have, however sophisticated. I believe that video games, and to a larger extent electronic entertainment, like MTV videos and such, do all the work for kids and take the creativity out of it. Who's using their brains here? Everything is laid out in color (and violence, but that's a different issue) before their eyes.

J. C. Herz: They're using their brains, alright. There are some serious fight-or-flight-type problems that need to be solved, *immediately*, in any videogame. They dont use the part of their brains they'd crank up for War and Peace. But they don't use that part to solve algebra problems either, and we still make them do their homework. Don't worry, the kids are alright.

Geraldine G. from cyberlands: What's next for you? Another book? And how does it feel to be so published at such a young age?

J. C. Herz: Can't really say, because I've never lived as someone else. I don't really think about it. I just think about how much I still have to/want to do, and it's just enormous. There are about 60 projects I will never have time for. I don't feel accomplished. I just feel busy.

Jack from Santa Monica, CA: Do you write primarily about technology, or have you ventured into any other genres?

J. C. Herz: So far, I've written about the intersection of popular culture and technology, because that's where a lot of the seismic activity is happening. I'm not married to tech. My next project may have nothing to do with silicon alley. I just go wherever the pop culture winds are blowing hardest.

Yvette P from Kansas City (why not?): I read in your book how the first video games were invented by cold war computer jocks looking for a little diversion. Did they get in trouble? How about a share in the profits?

J. C. Herz: The kooky thing was that this wasn't a side project for the military. It was a fully funded, fully sanctioned set of programs. Videogames were seen from the very beginning as a strategic asset -- the army had Atari build a $15,000 version of Battlezone in 1987, for instance. And the best videogames in America right now are owned by the US government. And yes, there are folks getting rich. And they work for Lockheed Martin.

dale brooks from dallas: do you have any passions outside of your work? or is work your passion, i.e. are you an opera fanatic, or something wildly off-beat like that!?

J. C. Herz: I travel a lot. And I'm a gym rat. Urban adventures, basically, are my passion. Finding patches of exotica in your own town. Which, since I live in New York, is a snap.

Will from College Park: Frankly, I hate video games. But I saw an Atari set on sale at a GARAGE SALE last weekend and it blew my mind -- people were in a bidding war for it. What's up? Are we really this much slaves to the electronic Gods? How is it that this stuff can be vintage already?

J. C. Herz: We've finally caught up to ourselves -- the eighties are retro. Get ready for a Pat Benatar revival.

Amelia from Charlotte, NC: Who exactly invents video games? And how do they get published or whatever you would call it for that industry?JCH

J. C. Herz: Great videogames are still written by the proverbial two-guys-in-a-garage, but that phenomenon is increasingly rare. It's turning into the Hollywood studio system -- teams of programmers, writers, and artists producing this gargantuan high concept cross-marketed behemoth.

Curt from Atlanta, GA: What kind of impact do you think video games have had on other cultures around the world? Do they usually originate here or are video games a product of another nation?

J. C. Herz: Videogames contribute to the digital youth culture, globally -- the kids with enough money and brains to get computers, get online, buy videogames. It's a strange hybrid of North America, Japan, and Mars. But it is somewhat encouraging that a kid from Malaysia and a kid from Ontario have something in common -- they can both play Sonic, despite the fact that they don't speak the same language. Videogames are like music that way -- language is not a prerequisite for consumption. So the stuff just spreads.

chris wallace from fresno: With all the legislation back and forth about online censorship and regulation, what do you ultimately forsee as the scope of government control over the internet? REALLY, I mean, with the phone companies, et al all up in arm about free e-mail, are we going to end up paying through the nose for service in response to government regulations, and are we going to be subject to some kind of content review section . . . ? They regulate TV don't they?

J. C. Herz: Five words on Internet censorship nailing jello to a tree.

Chris from Ithaca, NY: J.C., your pick for the best movie involving a video game.

J. C. Herz: War Games, I think, was the ultimate videogame movie.

Bethany Chadwick from Away from your own work, and the scope of pop culture and digital medium, what kinds of books do you read. Do you have a favorite author, genre, style?

J. C. Herz: I read a lot of history. Right now I'm reading a history of the Crusades. I think, in general, there's an obscene lack of historical perspective among the people discussing high tech, cultural change, etc. That's why we hear the words 'new' and 'revolution' so much. Everything is new, and everything is revolutionary, because no-one bothers to look for historical precedent. But you know, it's all happened before.

Patrick Landry from Montreal, Canada: Some people say that all those games can be dangerous for children, what is your opinion on this topic?

J. C. Herz: There's a chapter about violence in the book, and I talk about some of the research that's been done, and the legislative fracas, etc. And basically, it boils down to parental paranoia. Because videogames come from computers, and parents can't play them, and the arcade is outside the realm of parental control. And it's the same reaction that parents had to jazz, and rock & roll, and various other forms of 20th century popular entertainment. The kids are fine. But the folks are freaking out.

David Eugene from Seattle: Hey J.C. Did you ever stop while writing your first book, look up, and say, "Oh my God, I'm writing a book?" And didn't you ever yearn for the outdoors?

J. C. Herz: Bit of an unfair question -- you're in Seattle, I'm in Manhattan. But actually I get out quite a bit. Writing books allows for frequent breaks. Fresh air, naps, whatever.

Greta Rapoport from SOHO: What is your favorite digirati spot in NYC?

J. C. Herz: -- the only cybercafe' that doesn't make me nauseous. Because there's nothing cyber about it. It's just this comfy East Village den.

Tracey Kay from Stamford CT: What are your favorite websites, what sites can't you go without daily?

J. C. Herz: I actually don't spend a lot of time on the Web -- I spend 90 percent of my online time in e-mail. But I did just check out Douglas Adams' site for his Starship Titanic disc -- It's good.

sarah goldberg from chicago, il: is your interest in tech/pop all your own, or do members of your family share your interest. Was this just something you fell into? Did your formal education put you on this path? Did you study something relevant to the topics you now write about?

J. C. Herz: No more like me at home -- I'm the mutant pop culture baby. Natural appetite for it. No formal literary background -- studied biology in college. Blew of classes to write record reviews for the Boston Phoenix. And the rest as they say is history.

Mary Salkovitz from Westport CT: Outside of the U.S. where are video games most popular?

J. C. Herz: Japan. Home of Nintendo and Sega. Videogames are mind-bogglingly popular there. Then the US. Then England.

Mark from NYC: How do you feel about the online chat as an interview forum?

J. C. Herz: It can work. But I've seen it degenerate rapidly into Beavis and Butthead.

Beth from I completely agree (with what you said about historical perspective). I sometimes feel as though we are shadowing the footsteps of the Roman Empire. I also feel as though the trouble with a lot of new media development companies is the lack of business incite, the skills that take years of experience to acquire -- like management. What do you think will be the result of the new media boom. Ultimately, will it be run by only the heavy big budget hitters, or will there always be a voice for the independent firms . . .

J. C. Herz: When everyone and his dog hangs out a web site development shingle, there has to be a shake-out. And we're seeing that in 'Silicon Alley.' But I don't think you have to be big. You just have to be smart. Ultimately, the showmen will fall away and it'll be survival of the sharpest. And that means, yes, knowing how to run a business.

Patty from Williamsville: When you weren't playing video games, what were your favorite (or what are your favorite) cartoons?!

J. C. Herz: "Speed Racer." "Space Ghost." "Looney Tunes." "Scooby Doo." "Josie and the Pussycats." "The Jetsons." I could go on for hours. Basically, if it was on Saturday morning television between 1977 and 1983, I watched it.

regarding Mary Salkovitz from whose from Westport: Do you think they are popular in Japan because of production and marketing there, or does it have something more to do with their culture? The regimen, the work ethic . . .

J. C. Herz: Well, it's a national product -- it's like Hollywood or American basketball is here. And the Japanese are very into their kids -- they have the best toys. Videogames. Kid magazines. Children are taken much more seriously there. And adults do, yes, need to blow off steam after a hard day at the finance mill.

Rick Abromowitz from Buffalo, NY: Hey, in contrast to video games, what are your favorite board games!

J. C. Herz: Connect Four. Battleship. Backgammon.

alan cole from tarrytown: What do you envision beyond the NET, what will be the next manifestation of the digital age . . . ?

J. C. Herz: Vast proliferation of networked digital gizmos. And the dreaded Tomagotchi's. This is as close as we get to a digital plague.

chris weiss from bellvue, wa: Navigator or Explorer?

J. C. Herz: Wow. THAT is the fin de siecle pick-up line. It used to be "What's your sign." Now a guy in Seattle will sidle up to you and ask, "Navigator or Explorer?"

Anne Harrison from Richmond, VA: Is the gaming industry primarily dominated by men? Did you ever feel discriminated against while you were doing your research because you are an attractive woman (or so the picture online would suggest)?

J. C. Herz: Not discriminated against at all. If anything it worked to my advantage. Like, wow, a *girl* who wants to talk about videogames? Guys, check this out!

Moderator: Thanks for joining us tonight, J.C. Herz! And thanks to everyone who dropped in and asked questions. J.C., any final remarks before we wrap up?

J. C. Herz: Other than exhorting the audience to buy multiple copies of this book? Hmmm . . . can't think of any. Thanks for having me. And if anyone has more questions, there's an e-mail address on the back flap of JOYSTICK NATION. Bye, folks.

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