akalabeth 1970s gaming

1970s Gaming: Dungeons & Desktops & Dreamers

After a busy first term of school, I’ve been spending the Christmas break reading up on the history of the computer game industry. Two books have me wondering: is today’s game industry echoing the 1970s?

The two books in question: — Dungeons & Desktops and Dungeons and Dreamers — cover a lot of games and game history, not always successfully. But they do a strong job of capturing the creative ferment of the times. On both mainframes and personal computers, creators like Willie Crowther, Bill Budge, and Richard Garriott were trying out new ideas on new technology.

Everything about games was in flux during the 1970s and early 1980s. Gary Gygax looms large in both Dungeons & Desktops and Dungeons and Dreamers, with an influence that went far outside pen-and-paper RPGs. Tabletop wargaming was in its heyday, with Avalon Hill and SPI publishing some of their most popular titles. The arcades were humming, and home consoles were rising for the first time. Even pinball machines were hot.

A legacy of the 1970s — the “software artists” of Electronic Arts
introduce themselves to the world in 1982.

Are the 1970s Back?

On the face of it, today’s game business is very different from the 1970s. Gaming is a $150 billion industry. The computers in our pockets have capabilities that were unimaginable in 1975. We are always connected to a world-wide information and entertainment network.

For all the differences in technology and scale, though, the business environment has spurred a wave of creativity similar to the 1970s.

Small teams and individual creators can compete with the biggest corporations. Selling to niche interests is profitable thanks to modern communication and production technology. This is one reason why small board game companies are doing so well right now. It’s also why one of the hit board games of 2019 was about birdwatching.

History doesn’t really repeat itself, of course, and just as well that it doesn’t. But there’s a lot to appreciate in today’s market, and I can’t help but wonder what might be the Electronic Arts of the 2020s.