The Importance of Pong

The Creation of Pong

Pong the game was not the first videogame but it was the first game to grab the publics attention on a large scale. The game developers Atari initially released the arcade game in November of 1972. During the development of the game, coin-operated, arcade, test-versions had been released and the coin-boxes came back overflowing. So, Atari took that as a sign of the games potential and had tens of thousands of copies sent out across the country (“Pong”). The games growing success as the arcade version led Atari to create and release a home version in 1975, allowing the fun of Pong to continue at home.

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Home Pong became the hot Christmas gift, selling hundreds of thousands of copies, introducing millions of children to video games, and transforming the TV from a passive medium into an interactive plaything. Decades later, Pong’s iconic sound, intuitive controls, and satisfying game play still resonate, inviting people to try their hand at keeping the ball bouncing as long as possible. (“Pong”)

tumblr_nk9f1dbk9r1tgmzako1_500Pong is a tennis-like or table tennis game that features two-dimensional graphics, which displayed two sides of a black screen _ divided by a dashed, vertical line _ each with a controllable line or rectangle and a ball  that bounced back and forth. Pong brought video games to a mainstream setting; because of the simplistic games popularity, home consoles could be found in more and more homes giving rise to the video game industry. Pong, remains the second longest running video game franchise to exist (next to the Oregon trail), spanning over forty years and demonstrating the longevity of the game. In 2015, Pong was officially inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame, which stated that “[b]y most measures of popular impact, Pong launched the video game industry” (“Pong”). Pong was not the first video game to be invented; it did, however, introduce video games to the mainstream public and set a precedent for all that would come in the video game industry.

What came next

Since the release of Pong, video games have risen immensely in popularity and what a video game is has evolved. Within this evolution, the debate of whether or not video games could be considered art had arisen. The establishment of the debate came when Roger Ebert, a celebrated and respected film critic, donned video games to not be art despite the growing claims to the contrary. There are sides to the debate of video games and each thoroughly explains how video games definitively are or are not to be classified as art.

When Paola Antonelli, curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), had announced that she would be curating an exhibit of interactive design featuring videogames, the debate was ignited. The fourteen original videogames to enter the exhibit in 2012 included: Pac-Man (1980), Tetris (1984), Another World (1991), Myst (1993), SimCity 2000 (1994), vib-ribbon (1999), The Sims (2000), Katamari Damacy (2004), EVE Online (2003, Dwarf Fortress (2006), Portal (2007), flOw (2006), Passage (2008), and Canabalt (2009). The

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Antonelli giving her Ted Talk

exhibit did not stop there, however, a year later in 2013 the MoMA added seven more video games to the collection: Magnavox Odyssey (1972), Pong (1972) , Space Invaders (1978), Asteroids (1979), Tempest (1981), Yar’s Revenge (1982), and Minecraft (2011). Pong had been added to the collection, demonstrating the significance of the game to the industry’s development. The curator, Paola Antonelli, explained why videogames had been added to the MoMA’s collections in a Ted Talk where she explained that:

I really do believe that design is the highest form of creative expression…You know, video games can be truly deep... So time, space, aesthetics, and then, most important, behavior. The real core issue of interaction design is behavior. Designers that deal with interaction design behaviors that go to influence the rest of our lives. They’re not just limited to our interaction with the screen... you can see how video games are the purest aspect of interaction design and are very useful to explain what interaction is. (Antonelli)

The presence of the games in the Museum of Modern Art was not widely received. In 2012, Johnathan Jones, a journalist for the Guardian, wrote the article, “Sorry MoMA, video games are not art”.  In the article Jones claims that, “electronic games are more like playgrounds where experience is created by the interaction between a player and a programme” (Jones). The dismissal of video games as a form of art gave rise to the defense of video games not only having a place in the MoMA but also as an art form.  In response to the Jones article, John Maeda at Wired wrote the article titled, “Videogames Do Belong in the Museum of Modern Art.” In which he explains how the games were not acquired as art but he continues to make the argument that “in some cases, games edge past being design to being art as well” (Maeda). He continues to explain how “videogames… played an important role in bringing about the digital age” (Maeda). With Pong at the forefront, there has been public support for the impact that video games have made.

The presence of videogames in the daily lives of so many people there was bound to be a discussion of their importance and impact. The discussion of their existence as art, may not have been the initial intention when Pong was released and brought video games to all those people but it is how the medium has developed.

Pong’s Legacy

In regards to the question of video games as art,  Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a 19th century German philosopher, considered art to have an ideal form and that the ideal form of art is reached through a series of evolutions that occur in the display of art (Hegel). Hegel’s claim of this progression of art can be seen over time; not to say that it is improving to an ideal but the introduction to new forms of art and the development of the qualifications for art are obvious. Hegel may have believed that it was his time period that possessed the “Ideal” art but his claim that art is changing and evolving can still be seen throughout the art world. If there is a progression in the definition and qualification of art and videogames have now joined that debate, then it is understandable that videogames could be a progression in art with Pong have leading the way. It could also be said that “typical digital art will arrive… it will become something new” (Hunger). Meaning that the acceptance of video games as a new form of art could occur. With Pong having led the way for videogames to their present popularity, it was also the important basis for all that video games have become.


Sources:

Antonelli, Paola. Transcribed by Joseph Geni. “Why I brought Pac-Man to MoMA”.ted.com (May 2013).

Hegel, G.W.E.. (1998 [1826]). “Philosophy of Fine Art.” In The Art of Art History: A Critical
Anthology, edited by D. Preziosi. Oxford University Press(Oxford: 1998[1826]) pp. 80-88

Hunger, Francis. “Perspective Engines: An Interview with JODI.” Videogames and art. (2013). http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=3014898.

Jones, Johnathan. “Sorry MoMA, video games art not art.” The Guardian. (30 November 2012) https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2012/nov/30/moma-video-games-art.

Maeda, John. “Videogames Do Belong in the Museum of Modern Art.” Wired. (December 2012). https://www.wired.com/2012/12/why-videogames-do-belong-in-the-museum-of-modern-art.

“Pong: Inducted 2015”. The Strong National Museum of Play. (Rochester, NY: 2017).

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