Photo from Official GDC on Flickr
My guest on the show this week is Alex Handy. He is the founder of the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, a non-profit based in Oakland, California.The museum houses a growing collection of historic video games and digital ephemera. Its mission is to preserve these games and educate the public about how video games are made and why they deserve the same artistic status as films or paintings.
Alex got the idea for the museum after he stumbled across some forgotten Atari 2600 chips at a flea market. The chips contained games that were never released to the public including one called Cabbage Patch Kids in the Park. Alex says, “In the world of video game collecting, an unreleased Atari 2600 game is about as good as it gets.”
After his discovery, Alex learned that there was no real institution dedicated to collecting and preserving video game artifacts, so he decided he’d make one himself. He secured a space in Oakland last October, and the museum’s first exhibition, a the history of 3-D games, appeared at last month’s Game Developer’s Conference.
When I spoke with Alex this week, he emphasized the storytelling power of video games. “The power of stories in video games are pretty significant,” he says. “There are stories I’ve seen in games that rival the best stories in cinema.”
Screenshot from the game Dwarf Fortress
One of the stories Alex shared in our interview came from a game called Dwarf Fortress. Alex calls the game “the single most complex video game ever created, hands down far and away.” In Dwarf Fortress, the game generates a entire unique world, complete with thousands of years of history, characters, artifacts, animals, an economy — essentially an entire civilization. The catch is, the game is just letters and numbers. There are no pictures. Playing the game, Alex says, is like watching the matrix, just an endless stream of characters. If you don’t know how to read them it’s a mess, but once you learn to decipher the text, stories like this one emerge:
“I’ve watched my dwarves sneak out in the middle of the night to recover a bolt of fabric left by a caravan of elves that were stomped to death by killer elephants…In the morning the other dwarves came out and were all upset, and one of the other dwarves got depressed and killed himself.”
On the show, we learn more about Dwarf Fortress, the art of video games and some other strange and innovative games in the indie developer scene.
Special thanks to Crashfaster, for contributing music to this week’s show.
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