Moving on from the Original Experience: Games history, preservation and presentation

Swalwell Melanie
2014 DiGRA '13 - Proceedings of the 2013 DiGRA International Conference: DeFragging Game Studies

The art historical notion of ‘the original’ continues to inflect games history and game preservation work. This paper notes the persistence of this concept particularly in the game lover’s invocation of ‘the original experience’. The paper first traces the game lover’s notions of history and preservation, recognizing their commitment to games, before noting that the appeal to original experience is problematic for more critical historical and scholarly perspectives. It suggests that there is a need to liberate critical thought from this paradigm and ask different questions, such as how exhibitions of 1980s games and gaming culture might be assembled for future audiences with no memory of this period. The model proposed by net art preservationist, Anne Laforet, of the Archaeological Museum offers a way for thinking about such exhibits of game history and visitors’ encounters with these, whilst moving beyond the notion that games must play exactly as they once did.


The Early Micro User: Games writing, hardware hacking, and the will to mod

Swalwell Melanie
2012 DiGRA Nordic '12: Proceedings of 2012 International DiGRA Nordic Conference

Historical perspectives are largely absent from contemporary debates about user-making. In this paper, I approach the question of user and player making, historically. I consider what microcomputer users and players did in the 1980s, when digital games first became available to play. Excavating the practices of early users through historical research into game coding, hardware building and hacking places not only places practices such as game modification into a longer arc of cultural history of user activity. Exploring what early users did with computers also provides new perspectives on contemporary debates about users’ productivity. The high degree of interest that contemporary users’ productivity is generating in academic circles provides a wider context for such inquiries.


“This isn’t a computer game you know!”: revisiting the computer games/televised war analogy

Swalwell Melanie
2003 DiGRA '03 - Proceedings of the 2003 DiGRA International Conference: Level Up

During the Gulf War of 1991, the television coverage was frequently observed to be ‘just like a video game’. This analogy primarily derived from the specific, ‘bombs-eye’ perspective of camera-equipped weapons, approaching their targets. The troubling nature of this coverage was said to derive from the viewer’s sense of direct involvement: the argument was that viewers were able to marvel at the ‘high tech’ nature of the weapons, at a remove from the bloody reality on the ground. These criticisms of a vicarious aesthetic (dis)engagement were taken to also characterise the playing of computer games. At a time when we have once again been confronted by TV coverage of war in the Gulf, this paper revisits the TV war/computer games nexus, informed by research on players’ engagements with games. It argues that comparisons between televised war and games have little to offer to those concerned with theorising games, at least in their current form. Research with players of games is, however, able to provide insights useful for theorising the fraughtness of watching televised war. Considered in this way, the analogy can be revealing. Drawing on previous research on players’ aesthetic engagements with games, as well as a range of other sources, this paper re-considers televisual war spectatorship, in terms of the figures of proximity/distance; here and there; negotiations between different materialities and realities; and virtuality. It proposes these figures as bases around which a more productive dialogue on computer games and televisual war might be conducted.


More Than A Craze: Photographs of New Zealand’s early digital games scene

Swalwell Melanie
2011 DiGRA '11 - Proceedings of the 2011 DiGRA International Conference: Think Design Play

"More Than A Craze" is an online exhibition consisting of 46 photographs of New Zealand's early digital games scene, in the 1980s. The exhibition includes the work of some of New Zealand's best known documentary photographers – Ans Westra, Christopher Matthews, Robin Morrison – with images from the archives of Wellington's Evening Post and Auckland's Fairfax newspapers. These photographers captured images of games, gamers and gameplay in the moment when these were novel. These images are significant in that they offer insights into the early days of digital games. They are an important primary source material for researchers interested in the history of play and interactive entertainment. The exhibition has been curated by Melanie Swalwell and Janet Bayly. It is an online exhibition, hosted by Mahara Gallery, Waikanae ( It is one of the outcomes of Swalwell's research into the history of digital games in New Zealand, in the 1980s.


Early Games Production in New Zealand

Swalwell Melanie
2005 DiGRA '05 - Proceedings of the 2005 DiGRA International Conference: Changing Views: Worlds in Play

This illustrated paper reports on the early digital games industry in New Zealand, during the late 1970s and 80s. It presents an overview of this largely unknown history, drawing on in depth archival research, interviews with key industry participants and collectors. It discusses the local production of consoles, handhelds, and arcade games in this market, as well as anomalies of distribution of game systems widely available elsewhere, which was the context for this production. While relative isolation – geographical and policy driven – accounts for part of the booming manufacture during this period, the paper questions how helpful it is to treat early local games production as just a phenomenon of the local. While it is sometimes strategically useful, it is argued that this production of locality can mask more complex intersections between the local and non-local – or global – factors, the heterogenising aspects of globalization in this period of early digital games.