A personal obsession with video games is behind Joystick Nation, LC. HERZ's book on a worldwide craze.
Words: Teddy Jamieson
For Proust. that most famous of literary nostalgics. it took the taste of a madeleine to waft him off into reverie. For author .l.C. Herz. flickering pixels on a video screen are a more likely inspiration for remembrance of things past.
Looking around for a subject to follow up her first book Surﬁng ()n The Internet. the 26-year-old Texan-born New Yorker has opted to investigate the first digital medium — the humble video game. The die was cast when she rediscovered her old Atari machine at her parents‘ house one holiday.
‘I just got so nostalgic over those old games and ljust thought. "Yeah. this is it". Everyone has this kind of emotional attachment to their childhood toys. Video games needed to be looked at. No one had done it. So why not'."
Soon Herl. was swapping retro game sound effects with baby boomer gamers and going weak at the knees when she realised that the game designer she was talking to. Eugene Jarvis. was the man behind the infamous Reaganite War on Drugs game Defender.
Childhood nostalgia can be a dangerous inspiration and. while it’s fair to say such fan girl enthusiasms can be off-putting to the video game agnostic. it fortunately does not swamp Herz's journalistic instincts. nor her waspish wit.
ln charting the development of the video game from the arcade to the front room. from Asteroids to Doom. she takes a scalpel to the video game. Herz uncovers the sheer scale of the industry — Nintendo earns a seven figure income from licensing Super Mario‘s image alone — dissects the 1980s conservative vision of games as the latest cultural demon. and gauges the male gender bias of the designers and the games themselves.
‘Video games are a boy‘s club. primarily.‘ she points out. ‘because they are all written by boys who’ve grown up playing video games. And spending twenty years toggling a joystick doesn‘t give you a lot of insight into the female psyche.’
Joystick Nation. however. deals with the symbiosis between the video game industry and the American military establishment. Not only did the technology for the earliest video games emerge from military research and development. but as the industry developed. the Pentagon began to use souped up
104 THE LIST 5—18 Dec 1997
‘I saw all these video games on 12ft screens, with gut-rollicking sounds, and I thought: "Jesus, this is cool, I like this
medium." 'i.c. Hertz
The most fascinating and frightening section of
l.C. Hertz: games fanatic
versions of video games to train soldiers.
Even more bizarrely. this has developed into a two-way process with Defence Department contractors developing commercial games as a by- product of their work for the military. llerz suggests we shouldn‘t be surprised.
‘lt’s really absurd and surreal to think that most of the technology in. say. a Game Boy. can trace its origins straight back to the Defence Department. but in a sense. the military has been in the entertainment industry for years — not only with the Pentagon using all these hi-tech simulations to train soldiers on video games. but if you look at Hollywood. the fetishisation
of military hardware is nunpant ‘We‘re through the
looking glass here.‘
I The write stuff '
A scriptwriter behind TV’s The Fast
Show, Charlie Higson also knows a thing or two about novels.
NAME: Charles Murray Higson. AGE: 39.
PREVIOUS JOBS: Decorator and pop singer. The Higsons, they were called. That was from 1980 to about 1986. We got to Number 72 with a cover of an Andy Williams song called 'Music To Watch Girls By'. ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: I’ve done it all my life, really. It's kind of all I wanted to be. The first book I had published was about the sixth I’d written.
DAILY ROUTINE: I don’t have a daily routine, really. It depends if I have a TV show on at the same time but I tend to write from about eleven through to five. If I've got a show on at the same time I’ll work on the book in the morning and work on the TV stuff in the afternoon. Evenings are sacred now I’ve got a family and that — I used to write all night but not anymore. INFLUENCES: Jim Thompson, Ted Lewis — he wrote the book that the film Get Carter is based on - and Patricia Highsmith. Crime writers, basically.
AMBITIONS: Just to be happy. It would be nice to sell some books. I'm quite successful in the television field but I was writing books before I did telly and they do quite well — each one does better than the last — but it would be good to be read by
FEARS: The same as anyone else, you know, death, disease, something happening to your
‘ family. No surreal ones, just ordinary
dull ones, no spiders or cactuses. Maybe soft fruit.
INCOME: It fluctuates wildly. Next year I'm going to make an absolute
fortune through doing a live show.
None of which has done anything to dampen her .
own love of the games themselves.
‘When I was in Atlanta for my book tour. I went to see [53 which is the big video game show. I walked through there and I saw all these video games on 12ft screens. with gut-rollicking sounds and they were even more gorgeous than the ones I'd seen before. And I thought: “Jesus. this is cool. I like this medium." ‘
Joystick Nation is published by Abacus at £9.99. See Christmas video games, page 108.
It‘s very difficult being self- employed because one year is not the same as the next. This year, I‘ve made a lot of money and last year I didn't make very much and next year I'm going to make a stupid amount. Which will be nice. That's a very useful catchphrase. At the moment, I suppose it averages about £100,000. (Brian Donaldson)
at Getting Rid Of M/ster Kitchen by Charles Hzgson rs pub/«shed by Abacus at f 6 99