Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Holy...! That's the largest blip I've ever seen on an oscilloscope!"
"Don't worry about it."
That was Pearl Harbour.
And I don't mean the Attack On Pearl Harbour flight simulator game which was pretty decent, though I was more of a Capcom's 1942 man myself. Give me a vertical scrolling shoot-'em-up over a flight simulator every single time. Anyway, that quote from was the real Pearl Harbour. And Naval HQ deciding that the huge blip which the radar operator had seen on his new-fangled oscilloscope couldn't possibly be real. Ah...
Now what, you might be asking, has that possibly got to do with the history of video games? Well, apparently, to fully understand the development of video games we need to go right back to 1857 when German scientist Heinrich Geissler discovered that electric voltage passed through gas-filled tubes caused them to glow different colours. It then took another forty years before Karl Ferdinand Braun invented the Cathode Ray Tube. Plus, not mentioned in this work (oddly given the first sixty odd pages are almost entirely given over to how the science of visual telecommunication developed), John Logie Baird gave the first public demonstration of television in 1925.
We do eventually get around to a history of video games proper, and it is quite informative, telling us about the various machines, the games and the larger-than-life characters involved, though the end does come a bit abruptly. I just can't help but think those first sixty pages could have been far better utilised, as interesting scientifically as they are.
I can completely see the intellectual journey Jonathan Hennessey is trying to take the reader on, I just would have rather he concentrated on the video gaming element more. It's like he spent hours researching, forgot his brief, got carried away with including the science stuff in the first sixty pages and then had to cram as much as he could in at the end before he ran out of memory - sorry, space.
Plus, UK gamers of a certain age will feel somewhat short-changed by the blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance of a ZX Spectrum 48K and Commodore 64 sharing one solitary panel without even saying what they are. So consequently pivotal, keystone games like Elite don't even get a mention. But then hopefully one day someone will do a graphic novel about the UK home computing explosion of the 1980s featuring the likes of Sir Clive Sinclair and Jeff Minter. I could very well imagine Darryl Cunningham tackling that!
Granted as the gaming industry has blossomed and burgeoned to the monster it is today (the revenues of the gaming industry now far exceed the movie industry in the USA), it would be utterly impossible to detail everything of significance in a single volume, but overall this just feels like it misses the mark. It's a very engaging read, it just probably doesn't deliver what the reader would be expecting, or indeed want. I do wonder whether, on the back of the hugely successful THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF BEER, Jonathan Hennessey fully realised the enormity of what he decided to tackle as a follow up.
Personally I think the author would have been far better advised to tackle this in three or four volumes split into, say, the early decades of proto-gaming, the seventies boom in arcade machines, the eighties and early nineties rise of home computing and the explosion in consoles, then the expansion of PC gaming and second wave of consoles, plus of course the evolution of modern massive, multi-online gaming, like errr... a certain game called Elite, plus the likes of World Of Warcraft, obviously. I am pretty certain there would have been a voracious appetite for it.
Ed Piskor took four volumes to lavishly detail a mere decade with his HIP HOP FAMILY TREE series, for example, so in retrospect, there was no way anyone could ever do justice to the history of video gaming in a mere 181 pages. Ah well, it's a decent enough, if protracted, potted history, I suppose. And ardent gamers will certain enjoy spotting the myriad character cameos popping up left, right and centre in the most unlikely times and places throughout. That was a very cheeky conceit which I did enjoy very much.