Rise of the Video Game is a five-part documentary on video games produced by the Discovery Chanel. Video, as well as descriptions of each episode, are shown below the fold.
Each episode, or “level” is described by The Discovery Chanel as follows:
Level 1: In the 1950s, the Cold War quickly evolved between the world superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union. Mutually assured destruction enforced an uneasy stalemate, yet also drove computer technology to create missile simulations to predict the results of a nuclear war. This same computer technology was used to develop the first computer game in 1958 — Tennis for Two. The Space Race and the Vietnam war coincided with Steve Russell’s game Space War! and the emergence of the first true giants in the video game business — Nolan Bushnell and Atari. In post-World War II Japan, electronics and computer technology emerged to rebuild a land and economy devastated by the atomic bomb. Space Invaders and Pac-Man soon followed, and the golden age of video games was born. Among others, individuals featured in this episode include Steve Russell, Nolan Bushnell, Ralph Baer (considered by many to be the inventor of the video game) and Toru Iwatani (Pac-Man designer). Video games emerged as a form of entertainment where the player was in control, as opposed to the more passive diversion of watching television.
Level 2: In the late 1970s and 1980s, instead of controlling “things” like spaceships and tennis rackets, videogame technology let players command recognizable characters with real faces and back stories. Game developers were liberated to create more complex video games with heroic journeys — and Japanese creators like Shigeru Miyamoto rose to prominence with star characters Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda. But in the 1990s, Generation X emerged and the games of their childhood couldn’t satisfy the new teen angst that now permeated pop culture. With Sega’s Genesis and Sony’s PlayStation, gamers dismissed cutesy cartoon characters in favor of grittier heroes like Sonic the Hedgehog and anti-heroes in games like Grand Theft Auto III. As players grew up, their youthful idealism was replaced with a warier view of the world and a yearning for photorealistic, angry anti-heroes. This episode features interviews with Trip Hawkins (Silicon Valley entrepreneur and co-founder of Electronic Arts), Al Lowe (creator of Leisure Suit Larry), Tim Schafer (creator of Full Throttle) and other notable figures in the gaming industry.
Level 3: With games like Castle Wolfenstein 3-D and Doom, video games grew from their primitive 2-D roots into richly detailed 3-D worlds. These groundbreaking 3-D games led the industry down new paths, both thrilling and troubling. Designers now had the technology to create games that accurately simulated the real world. For the first time, game designers had to grapple with a difficult question — how long before a game was nearly indistinguishable from reality? For all the controversy surrounding the first-person shooter genre in video games, its popularity was undeniable. And in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the same government that fought to regulate video games quickly designed their own as a recruiting tool for the Army. America’s Army was born and an even more sensitive debate arose as to the morality of recruiting young men for real war through the fun of a video game. Were games desensitizing us to the very real pain of violence and war? And more importantly, were video games leading us on a march towards virtual war? Some people interviewed in this episode include Colonel Casey Wardynski (director and project originator of America’s Army) and Asi Burak (producer of Peacemaker — a computer game simulation of the Israeli-Arab conflict).
Level 4: Ever since the invention of the computer, man has feared “the machine” and its ability to think. But a computer’s unique computational power has also led to the development of unpredictable, intelligent and malleable games. “God games,” like SimCity and Civilization, simulate entire worlds and let players experiment with cause and effect. As the 1990s dawned, global turmoil forced gamers to find solace in the world of videogames — a virtual world that offered control at a time when the real one seemed dangerously out of control. Now, videogames have become tools for learning and creative expression. Players use games like Halo and Unreal Tournament 3 to tell their own stories via Machinima or through custom content that is shared with others over the Internet. The line between producer and customer has forever blurred — further proof that videogames are destined to become the dominant form of entertainment. This episode features Will Wright (creator of SimCity, The Sims and Spore), Sid Meier (who developed the game series Civilization) and John Brennan (voice actor from the Jerky Boys and Family Guy).
Level 5: The advent of the Internet has changed everything — including videogames. When ARPNET, a military precursor to the Internet, went live in 1969, gamers almost immediately began using this new technology for gaming. But what began as text-based adventure games called MUDs (multi-user dungeons) quickly evolved into graphic-based online adventure games called MMOs (massively multi-player online games). Millions worldwide have battled together and against one another in the latest genre of videogame. From Ultima Online to the most successful MMO of all time, World of Warcraft, gamers now are attracted to virtual second lives as they battle friends and foes across the globe from the safety of their home computers. In the virtual world, gamers have found they can be anyone or anything. The ability to reinvent oneself virtually has become an irresistible experience for many, and has some critics wondering whether the line between the real world and the virtual world has become dangerously blurred. Many gamers spend more time in the virtual world than the real world, but they argue that the virtual experiences of MMOs are still human experiences simply delivered via the latest wave of technology — the videogame. This episode includes interviews with Cory Ondrejka (chief technology officer at Linden Lab) and Richard Bartle (British writer and game researcher best known for being the co-author of MUD).