Center for the History of Video Games and Critical Play

The Center is made possible by a generous grant and sponsored by the History Department at California State University, Long Beach. To donate to the archive or support the Center's work please contact either Sean Smith or Jeff Lawler. You can visit the archive at California State University, Long Beach. We are located in FO2-209.

The Center is in its first full year of development and will act as a collaborative, interdisciplinary space where researchers, students and a community of gamers at CSULB can engage in the critical study and teaching of video games and their impact on culture. Games occupy an essential place in the contemporary media ecology and our students’ lives, and they are necessary objects of critical and historical analysis. The Center will also foster game pedagogy (see History 306 on our research page) and research throughout the university, and develop productive interactions between disciplines, students, scholars, gamers, and the general public.

To accomplish these objectives, the Center will actively promote student and faculty work on history and games through a center-funded website. The website will network like-minded programs and projects at other institutions and universities and maintain a blog dedicated to publishing articles by the CSULB community and partners related to games study and history gaming. To further promote the Center we hope to create a monthly podcast that explores issues in history and gaming and invites others to discuss critical play and research methods. In this way, we hope to engage in an interdisciplinary conversation with other games scholars and extend that research to a wider scholarly and public audience. To that end, the Center will facilitate the creation of new gaming-related courses, sponsor an academic conference that invites students and scholars to share their work on history and video game topics, invite speakers to campus, and provide a vocational space for critical gaming.

Core to the Center’s mission is the creation of a “playable” archive of gaming technology and software. The archive will house both vintage video game systems and software donated to the Center by the public or bought through the Center’s funds, as well as machines running contemporary emulation software for older coin-operated video games and console systems. A playable experience such as this offers researchers and students the opportunity to write about games from a player’s perspective. Experiencing the source material helps create more accurate histories of these games and their meaning within a specific cultural context.  Having a playable archive of games also means exposing researchers and students to the evolution of game mechanics in video games. Offering them a glimpse at how mechanics can influence narrative (the history told in these games) and how narrative can influence the creation of new gaming mechanics.  The critical play center will offer an opportunity to create, stream or post critical “let’s play” videos, bringing critical analysis of video games to a broad audience.

Along with the playable archive, the Center will also house an Oral History Archive of Gaming Experiences. In conjunction with our History 402 Oral History Methods and History 305 Digital History Methods, students will collect and create a public digital archive of the oral histories and experiences of gamers from the late 1970s forward. These oral histories will be used by researchers interested in gaming as a cultural phenomenon as well a shed light on the experience of players based on their gender, race, or ethnicity. A collection of stories such as these will help fill in the gaps missing in today’s historical research into video games and gaming culture. 




Sean Smith -- Director
Twitter: @seansmithcsulb

Jeff Lawler -- Director
Twitter: @jefflawlercsulb 

David Shafer -- History Department Chair

Site Photo Credits: 
Photos by Sean Smith, Jeff Lawler, and from Julian LozanoUgur AkdemirBen NealeJippe Joosten on Unsplash