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The first reason for a lack of love, it can be argued, is technological. Demonstrating the physical relationship between two objects in space is visually less challenging than representing love and affection. This is no more apparent than in Pong (Atari 1972). Pong is generally understood as a version of tennis. While the abstract representation of tennis is extreme (two rectangles and a square), the notion that the player is engaged in a kind of tennis volley is fairly easy to understand. The player understands a relationship between objects, recognizing that the three basic elements of tennis are a court, rackets, and a ball.

Yet, even tennis is more complicated than Pong represents. Pong doesn’t have a net. Pong versions don’t include a realistic representation of rackets, rather they include a rectangular abstraction of them. Nor do they include the complexity of tennis scoring. Even as a version of ping-pong, it falls short in its representation. With no net, limited ability to spin (a.k.a., put English on the ball), no angling, and a very simple table/court the game is a pretty substantial abstraction. It is a very simple simulation that cuts out core elements largely due to technical limitations.

Now imagine that Pong clone designers aimed to create something more complex and less related to object representation. Imagine for example, that the designer aimed to explore the complexities of co-parenting, aiming to describe the two rectangles as parents and the object they bounce between as child-rearing responsibilities. It is perhaps an appropriate analogy, as the responsibilities must be balanced and play ends

The Critical Gameplay Game, Charity, offers an alternative version of Pong where players are responsible for keeping the ball in play cooperatively, instead of competitively

FIGURE 1.1 The Critical Gameplay Game, Charity, offers an alternative version of Pong where players are responsible for keeping the ball in play cooperatively, instead of competitively.

when either fails to meet their responsibility. This was the premise for my 2008 version of Pong, a cooperative version of Pong instead of a competitive version. It was named Charity and is shown in Figure 1.1. In such a simple game, the players are supposed to love the ball, sharing it between each other, instead of aiming to make it harder for the player to volley. It stands as a very simple example of an alternate trajectory in the history of games—one that preferred cooperation and support over competition and domination.

Historically, game designers repeatedly chose the competitive mechanic over the cooperative. Generally, when players played together they played against each other, or they played against the machine together. Many of the designers, whether aware of it or not, were working on an affirmative design premise (Raby 2008). They aimed to affirm the design assumptions of past games. The result is a myriad of computer interactions in games that are largely derived from a few precedents. Pong, for example, saw at least forty clones between 1977 and 1980 many of which resulted in lawsuits (Katxenbach et al. 2016). All of which continued the competitive mechanics. Later, mechanics like Space Invaders begot Galaga (Namco 1981) which set the standard for many space shooters (a.k.a., “schmups”). Defender informs later schmups, where designers combine invading wave mechanics (e.g., Space Invaders, Galaga) with more dynamic player movement to make games like Gradius (Konami 1985). Each subsequent game in the genre affirmed elements from those prior, in much the way a good product designer examines the competition, takes elements from it, and moves it forward. The same can be seen of platformers, first-person shooters, and a variety of action super genres that began as mechanics in the arcade.

Herein is the problem for the evolution of love from a technological perspective. In arcade games there was no precedent from which could have derived love and affection. There’s no first love game in affection from the 1970s through the 1990s that provided enough financial precedent to encourage clones. There are many reasons for this, which are explored later in this chapter. In short, arcades didn’t offer the audience, nor the time, for such experiences. There was little space for love, when so much of the alternative experiences were about surviving. They were also gender-biased play, with a history that moved them toward the affirmation of masculinity carried from the 1950s (e.g., guns and aggressive play). Modern understandings of gender have moved past these biases, but the history of games is still subject to them.

It’s also important to admit that any kind of abstraction of love is a bit much to ask of players thirty years ago. The first arcade versions of Spacewar! were simply too complex for players to understand, resulting in relative failure when compared to rival releases. Between the challenges of relaying the complexities of love and affection and an audience that was entirely new to human-computer interaction, it was perhaps too much of a technological step to explore.

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