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The Domestic Spaces of Digital Media – Zach Whalen

On Might 27, 2018, I joined my colleagues Brenta Blevins and Lee Skallerup Bessette in a session at the 2018 Computer systems and Writing Convention, held this yr at George Mason University. It was my first Computers and Writing, and I had a good time studying from many fascinating periods. For my paper, which follows under, I had an opportunity to speak concerning the history and which means of the Console Dwelling Room, which I haven’t written about for a while. It was nice to consider and body the lounge work once more, particularly as Jim is absolutely engaged in a next part venture with Reclaim Video. Listed here are the phrases as I introduced them, edited slightly for format and clarity.


Within the 1970s, first-generation house videogame consoles had to work to seek out their place in the dwelling rooms and dens of center class houses in the USA. With televisions at the middle from the 1950s on, phonographs, hi-fi stereos with 8-track players and later VCRs and Selectavision video disc gamers crowded the shelves that early recreation console needed to find their places on. Early methods like Magnavox’s Odyssey collection and Fairchild’s Channel F communicated embraced their relationship with tv, as a lot of the advertising and product design of the methods positions these consoles as an enhancement to the TV.

As Sheila Murphy has noted, videogames’ emergence from inventor Ralph Baer’s concept to do extra than just watch televisions effectively linked the sense of consumer agency associated with computing to the leisure exercise of the TV.

“I’m sitting around … thinking what can you do with a TV set other than tuning in channels you don’t want. And I came up with with the concept of doing games…”
— Ralph Baer, qtd. in Murphy

It wasn’t till the second era consoles and their enhanced processing power (because of the affordability of Zilog’s Z80 and more highly effective versions of the MOS 6502 processors) that the advertising narrative for residence videogames emphasised bringing the arcade experience residence.

Between those durations, whereas arcades have been encouraging deviant conduct in teenagers, the videogame console that got here to characterize the late 1970s and finally make the most profitable argument for videogames’ place within the house was the Atari’s comparatively reasonably priced Video Pc System or 2600.

There are various causes for Atari’s success with this console, however a key factor of its reception that typically gets misplaced among the many historic studies of this platform is the best way the promoting for this technique focuses on the whole household gathered across the tv with a purpose to play Atari. The rhetoric of their “Have you played Atari today?” campaign is that the Atari isn’t merely a welcome constituent of the lounge media ecology or one thing that makes the TV better, it’s the entire purpose for being there.

Media archaeologist Erkki Huhtamo situates residence videogame consoles as half of a longer history of home media consumption which surged with the mass manufacturing of optical media units like stereopticons in the Victorian period, coinciding with an emerging bourgeoisie that was reorganizing the separation of public and home life. Huhtamo writes

“Media is never accepted into homes as such, in prepackaged forms and meanings; rather, its roles and identity are molded through continuous negotiations involving humans, the spaces they inhabit, and the specific codes they have internalized and apply in their daily operations”
— Huhtamo, “What’s Victoria Got to Do with It?” 48

In this presentation, I’ll describe an ongoing artistic and pedagogical challenge on the College of Mary Washington that makes an attempt to situate digital know-how in a historically contemporaneous domestic setting. This venture is supposed to be each instructional and persuasive, arguing that media platforms — especially videogames — by no means exist as objects per se but are moderately events for continuous, dynamic events that happen in specific sorts of places.

In fact, if one needs to study concerning the historical past of videogames, web-based emulation is available for a whole lot of video games from the 70s and 80s, however videogame emulation isn’t fairly right: in a nostalgic body of mind, what we search in experiencing videogames from an earlier time interval isn’t merely the content material of the game. Even if the nostalgic affect of enjoying basic videogames is, as an alternative, a false, anamorphic vision of an idealized, youthful version of ourselves that would have been enjoying these video games in this variety of area.

Emulation can also be a solution museums and different cultural establishments have turned to, for instance, installing emulators alongside the unique, fragile artifacts of recreation history, articulating what Raiford Guins writes about as the “activity / artifact” duality of videogame curation.

Our website at UMW is certainly not a museum, nor is it fairly a “lab” in the sense utilized by the Media Archaeology Lab. No matter it’s, UMW’s Console Dwelling Room area has been and is an indication of the importance of the physical spaces of digital media.

It started with an idle conversation in January 2015 at UMW’s then brand-new Info Know-how Convergence Middle. Building supervisor Cartland Berge and Jim Groom have been configuring a Playstation three so as to make it obtainable for college kids to take a look at and play in any of the collaboration spaces in the building. I identified that, if we’re going to have newer video games, we also needs to have older consoles out there, ideally in some fastened location with a dedicated contemporaneous TV in order that the video games could possibly be appreciated of their unique cathode-ray glory. Jim was all in, and after some brainstorming and planning, we arrived on the concept of building a totally furnished front room based mostly within the 1980s, skewing slightly towards the 1970s.

On this area, we included a number of consoles: an Atari 2600, a Commodore Vic 20, an Intellivision, a PONG-clone, a Channel F, and a Vectrex. Jim, whose historic curiosity leans more towards film, additionally acquired a nice stereo system, a vintage VCR and Beta player, and an RCA Selectavision.


I used to be notably fascinated with this Selectavision videodisc — it’s a “video on vinyl” system which, just like the identify implies, reads encoded video knowledge from a vinyl disc with a stylus, identical to a phonograph participant. The resulting video quality isn’t nice, but the disks, which are loaded and unloaded to the participant with a cartridge system in order that the vinyl is protected, supply a bigger canvas for paintings, which is often a slightly cropped model of the movie poster. So merely as aesthetic objects, these made a pleasant contribution to the area, which we began calling the Console Dwelling Room, not realizing at the time that that identify overlapped with the web-based emulation projected hosted by the Web Archive.

With the help of Michael Branson Smith of York School, we attached two low-power broadcast antennas to a few of Raspberry Pis enjoying 1980s TV programming. This manner, any of the 5 or 6 working TVs we had within the area at any given time might tune in one of two stations we’d programmed based mostly on an area 1980s TV schedule. Channel 7 started at 6AM with an aerobics present, crammed within the mornings with recreation exhibits and the afternoons with soap operas, concluding with Magnum PI and Airwolf for the evening. Channel 9 screened collection marathons films and like the Cronenberg movie Shivers — in coordination with a class on exploitation films.

This convergence of TV programming and media consoles showcases with the performative facet of our front room set up and aligns with Ralph Baer’s preliminary conception of video games as extending TV programming, not replacing it. And, in any case, within the University’s so-called Convergence Middle, an area that combines collaboration rooms, lecture rooms, media production studios, technical help, Digital Information tutoring and infrastructural IT, so it made sense to imagine our area as a mirrored image on how media have all the time converged in other, non-institutional spaces like dwelling rooms.

To flesh out the lounge impact, we crammed out the area with furnishings from the University’s surplus warehouse: finish tables, chairs, a coffee table and leisure middle helped the area fulfill its perform, but a cool plaid loveseat turned one of the long-lasting character pieces for the set up.

The last aspect that gave the area an unmistakable specificity have been its walls. Kenny Hornung from the theatre department’s carpentry store confirmed Jim and me tips on how to construct “stage flats,” which we paneled with some low cost MDF wooden paneling from Lowe’s. Erecting these within the two walls that shaped our area.

Wood paneling — the signature interior cladding materials of the 1970s and 80s that helped Stranger Issues earn an Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Production Design for a Period Program” fulfilled the contextual signification of that area. Seen in isolation, the fake wood-grained paneling on a number of of our TVs and most of the game consoles looks like a quirky design selection, however in a room the place the partitions are wood paneling and most of the furniture is at the least accented with dark-stained wood, that design selection out of the blue is sensible. Raiford Guins quotes Al Alcorn — the designer of PONG saying that

“[we made it brown] to look good in an American living room.”
— Al Alcorn, qtd. in Guins

Inversely, we made our room brown in order that PONG and comparable techniques would have a room to look good in.

The wood paneling walls had a damaging aspect effect, nevertheless, in that that campus security officer deemed them a fireplace hazard. Surprisingly, she wasn’t that apprehensive concerning the giant swaths of flammable materials wound by way of with extension cords connecting snares of circa-1970s wiring. As an alternative, it was the best way that the wood paneling sat off from the precise partitions by about 1 foot on two sides, changing the efficient protected occupancy limit of the area. Appeared arbitrary to me, however I had no selection but to remove them, and as Jim Groom left the College at about the identical time, he took many of his units with him.

Many of those units, together with the Selectavision, have just lately discovered a brand new residence in Jim Groom’s “Reclaim Video” storefront.

In Spring 2017, I labored with a gaggle of nine college students to resurrect and reimagine the lounge area underneath a broader identify — the Media Anachronism Undertaking — and a concentrate on a new decade — the 1990s. College students did analysis on many various features of 90s digital and visible tradition like the rhetoric of toy commercials, the predominance of sitcoms made for teenage women, the emergence of the online, and the evolution of messageboard tradition.

Noting that the original front room was subtly masculine in numerous ways, this group of college students chose Clarissa from Clarissa Explains it All as their muse, and we did what we might to design the area in a method that may have made sense to her. Some obstacles stood in the best way of attaining that, sadly. Clarissa’s main set is her bed room, and we have been informed explicitly that we were not allowed to put in a bed on this public area. We also couldn’t paint the partitions in patterns, however we compromised with vibrant colors wherever attainable, Lisa Frank stickers, and a pink filing cupboard.

For the videogames, I constructed a shelf with slots and an eight-channel RCA video switcher. Maintaining with the last decade, we loaded this shelf with an NES, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Playstation One, Sega Genesis and even a Sega Saturn.

We also adopted the nearby info show screens and built a 90s- fashion website (actually simply WordPress with a Geocities theme) to convey the findings and outcomes of our tasks.

Although we recognized from the beginning that finding a signature 90s look can be tougher than it was with the 1980s, we hoped that the then-trendy vaporwave aesthetics would assist us discover our visual cues, but in the long run the lounge area bumped into extra challenges than we have been capable of overcome.

In both iterations of this area, two guiding rules have oriented our work: to playfully interact customers in rethinking digital area, and to discover and rejoice the methods through which digital know-how informs a lived experience. By situating digital platforms in particular locations that evoke their historical contexts, we defamiliarize these spaces for a pedagogical function. Moreover, by situating this area — with its smelly tweed sofa, sagging wooden paneling, the loud videogames — in a shiny new technological marvel of a tutorial building, we call consideration to the influence of design on conduct. Creating area for a unique sort of social expertise. In other phrases, by foregrounding the quirkiness of our area, we hope constructing customers will mirror on the otherwise “normalcy” of the areas which our area interrupts, and maybe the social contexts of gaming will help or increase the other sorts of collaboration that occurs in the Convergence Middle.

Lastly, a elementary principle to the UMW Console Dwelling Room is that its materials should remain as accessible as attainable. Nothing is locked down, and located as it is, there isn’t any strategy to prohibit entry to the room. The whole lot is a minimum of meant to be played (that is, some issues are broken) however they will still “do work” as playful cultural artifacts, and this can be a stance that I assume different comparable collections and reveals haven’t taken. From a curatorial standpoint, this can be a dangerous strategy, and a small quantity of gadgets have indeed gone lacking. However as proof of the superb things that may happen whenever you belief individuals, extra gadgets have mysteriously appeared (from nameless donors) than have disappeared. It’s really a social curation.
In his guide No Medium, Craig Dworkin extends McGann and Kirschenbaum to delineates the predicament of media such that

“Media — if there are such things — are only recognizable as collectives” which are mandatory for which means to happen. Furthermore, “the close one looks at the materiality of a work — at the brute fact of its physical composition– the more sharply a social context into focus” in these methods media usually are not simply “actively dynamic processes, but that as such they are nested within a recursive structure.”

“Recognizing a compact disc, say, for what it is — acknowledging its medial status — thus comes to be seen as analogous to the CD player’s recognition of that disc’s digital binary data, which is in turn analogous to a listener’s recognition of the playback from the disc as music.”
— Dworkin 32

Following Dworkin’s lead, I feel the Dwelling Room presents a solution to move beyond Katherine Hayles’ medium-specific analysis toward a media-situated evaluation that acknowledges the gritty, insistent hacceity of individual media and their platforms, like my students have begun doing with their research of 90s digital tradition.


Works Cited

  • Dworkin, Craig. No Medium. MIT Press, 2013.
  • Guins, Raiford. Recreation After: A Cultural Research of Video Recreation Afterlife. The MIT Press, 2014.
  • Huhtamo, Erkki. “What’s Victoria Got To Do with It? Toward an Archaeology of Domestic Video Gaming.” Earlier than the Crash: An Anthology of Early Video Recreation Historical past, edited by Mark J. P. Wolf, Wayne State University Press, 2012.
  • Reclaim Video. http://reclaimvideo.com/. Accessed 27 Might 2018.
  • Sheila C. Murphy. How Tv Invented New Media. Rutgers Univ Pr, 2011.