Video games 101
6-week continuing ed. course delves into more than four decades of gaming history
Syd Bolton has amassed a collection of more than 75,000 video game cartridges and will be teaching a six-module, non-credit course entitled The History of Gaming, beginning in April. – supplied photo
Video games aren’t just a hobby to Syd Bolton.
The understated enthusiast has amassed 17,500 game cartridges that represent a major component of the Personal Computer Museum he opened out of Brantford 12 years ago — a collection that’s currently valued at more than $1 million.
Yet it can be difficult to make a living from a labour of love, the 46-year-old programmer admits.
Life took a bit of a turn when he lost his full-time job as an IT manager back in June.
While he still does work for various clients, Bolton has been concentrating on the museum recently, while teaching on the side.
After developing a credit course on video games at Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford, he recently committed to teaching a six-module, continuing education course out of the Waterloo campus this spring called the History of Gaming.
The first and last classes will be held at TheMuseum in downtown Kitchener where various artifacts from Bolton’s museum are now on display as part of an exhibit called Interplay.
“I’m going to bring out, even for the other weeks, artifacts from every era, so basically the course is split up against different timelines of video game history,” said Bolton.
“It’s going to be fun because they’ll actually get to play with the stuff and not just sit in a classroom environment,” he said. “I think sometimes, for most of us, we get a little better retention when we get to experience things firsthand, and so that was kind of the idea.”
“Whether your first video game experience was playing table tennis on the Magnavox Odyssey, the world’s first commercial console, or go-kart racing against family members in the comfort of your living room, the course offers something for all levels of gamers,” the description promises.
Bolton says lot of people in their early 20s have already expressed interest in his class, which starts April 3 and runs each Tuesday until May 8. Those interested can sign up by March 20 at wlu.ca/historyofgaming.
A good portion of the population has seen the transition of videos games from very simplistic versions to what they are now, but a lot of kids don’t have that experience, Bolton said.
“They see a lot of the nostalgia built into newer game but don’t know where it comes from,” he said. “What I’ve seen with younger generations at my museum is that at first you think the kids don’t want to see the old stuff, but once they sit and try it they’re quite amazed that the gameplay is kind of good and they forget about the fact the graphics suck and the sound isn’t anywhere near what we have today.”
The course delves into the “golden age of video games” when titles such as Space Invaders hit the scene, later flowing into game like Pac-Man and Dragon’s Lair, an animated cartoon that was a huge departure from the norm at that time.
If Pong wasn’t as good as it still is, the video game industry wouldn’t be the same as we enjoy today, said Bolton, who plans on exploring the crashes, peaks and key players and how good ideas transcended everything else.
He’ll talk about the evolution of the Sims series, starting with Will Wright’s Commodore 64 game Raid on Bungeling Bay, and how the makers of Microsoft’s Halo initially made games for the Mac, including one called Marathon, which transcended what we know today as the “first-person shooter.”
“Some ideas weren’t so good,” Bolton mused, adding that there are hundreds of thousands of games, including many handhelds, most people know nothing about.
His game collection includes a copy of Extra Terrestrials, the one of the rarest video game cartridges ever made, and the only Atari 2600 game to be produced in Canada.
These days a large number of popular title titles such as Electronic Arts’ NHL and Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed are manufactured right here on home soil, Bolton said.
“We’re going to talk about how video games were culturally different and what it was like to go to an arcade — how suddenly the arcade was the social experience and how that’s completely changed today with how we play games online, but can be social in isolation.”
As a preservationist Bolton will also weigh into the future and next transition from physical media to download-only.
“How are we going to treat our digital games going forward?” he wonders. “Digital games released today — can we bring them back years later? What happens to combination of music and art and programming brought together by a group of people and when such a creative process no longer available? It’s something that I worry about and not too many people are thinking about.”
For Bolton, video games have always served as a form of escapism — a way to discover new worlds.
“I think video games are the greatest hobby ever invented,” he said.
“I want everyone to understand the history of these things and how we got to where we are today. We didn’t just wake up one day and have these Call of Duty games that are so realistic. There’s a whole progression with how we got there.
“I think this will provide people with a really good a good overall understanding of how video games came into our lives and what about them has made them so compelling and so addictive.”