In the early part of the 1980s, thanks to the enormous popularity of Atari, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders, it seemed that everyone was talking about the new phenomenon that was gaming. That was when they weren’t playing them, pf course. Whether it was the latest magazine headline, an ad on the radio, or even a Top 40 chart hit from Buckner & Garcia, gaming was everywhere.
Children pleaded with Santa to deliver them an Atari for Christmas or begged their parents for a handful of coins to play Pac Man. Hollywood films such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High showed that the video arcade was a bona fide hangout for teenagers.
Decades later, video games now offer a more innocent and retro vibe. When they were new, however, they were treated like objects worthy of obsession and even came with a degree of concern. Children saw them as the ultimate toy to master and competed with friends to achieve the highest score attainable. Some adults weren’t above playing them, either.
A different view
Many adults in positions of authority, however, were less keen and even wished to ban then, or at least regulate their use, as they saw them as being harmful. Other adult authorities perceived video games as being something more than toys and, in fact, a way to train children for a more tech-based future.
This particular moment in technology and pop culture history might have appeared to be something like we’d never seen before, but the fact is that computer-based gadgets were becoming part of everyday life at the time. Now, however, with the benefit of hindsight, we can acknowledge that it was just one in a number of overreactions to new media than date back to the beginning of writing when ancients believed that it would lead to the end of memory.
Hope or threat
There’s a tradition in America whereby they become fascinated with new communication technologies, pointing out their hope for renewed community and future prosperity. Of course, there’s another American tradition, which is where people worry over the very same objects and regard them as threats to the future of humanity.
In the 19th century, when we saw the emergence of the telegraph and the railroad, and then 20th-century technologies such as the radio, telephone, television, cinema, and the World Wide Web all found that they created a mix of fear and hope.
The hope was that these technologies would bring together what was a dispersed and vast country but there was also a concern that they would trivialise daily affairs, weaken local bonds, and see children become exposed to threats, hindering their growing into adulthood.
This moral outrage is nothing new. Adults seemingly fail to remember that the same degree of alarmism had occurred in each generation before. Fiction in the 18th and 19th centuries could have been accused of confusing young women over the differences between reality and fantasy, perhaps causing too much excitement in them. Rock ’n’ roll was referred to as “the devil’s music” in the 50s for its resultant youthful rebellion and encouraging of racial mixing.