Among the many activities that force me to prime some impressive time-management skills (a steady diet of rock climbing, for example, or falling headfirst into a lesbian BDSM platformer video game), one of my favorites is working as an Assistant to the William A. Higinbotham Game Studies Collection. Over the past 3 years, I've been privileged to have a front row seat watching my dissertation advisor Raiford Guins build a video game lab from the ground up--often with his bare hands (I'm not kidding--he painted the walls himself). The WHGSC (unpronouncable!) is dedicated to preserving the legacy of William A. Higinbotham, with a special emphasis on his 1950s creation Tennis for Two--the first (analog) computer game ever built. The connection here is Brookhaven National Laboratory, the government research site Higinbotham worked at (now subcontracted by the US Department of Energy), and which currently operates in partnership with Stony Brook University. That's right--video game history on Long Island!
The Collection works somewhat in two halves--there's the collection "proper", which includes consoles, cartridges, boxes, manuals, strategy guides and thousands of late 1970s - early 1990s video game magazines. This "stuff" is under the auspices of SBU's Special Collections, and directly attended to by Kristen Nyitray, the Head of Special Collections. The more public/pedagogic front of the Collection is the Video Game Lab--a room in the library full of clunky tables and big ol' CRT screens where students in Stony Brook's various video game related classes can experience, let's say, playing games on an original ColecoVision, real console, cartridges and all (I also like to break in on bad days and kill an hour playing Super Mario World--it always sets the world aright).
I've had a hand in all sorts of fun stuff at the archive, from cataloging magazines to cleaning consoles to doing archival work. Last week, however, was a new task--I was asked to put up some Pac-Man themed "decorations" in the game lab. My advisor left a cardboard tube of wall decals in my office mailbox, and I presumed this would all be pretty straightforward. Opening it, however, I realized there were 50-some individual pieces, and I spent about 90 minutes having a serious designer's dilemma in the lab (certainly one of my most ludicrous design experiences to date). However, I think it came out splendidly, and the room now vibes with a sense of fun and whimsy, rather than its once rather oppressive stark black walls (apologizes for the crappy cell phone photo). Each time the lab and the collection improve, I'm proud of what we've done here: building up an institutional presence, piece by piece, into something students love, and which reflects what one can really accomplish at a university with enough drive, enthusiasm, and long-term vision.
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