Earlier this year, Nick Montfort & Ian Bogost released a book called Racing the Beam – The Atari Video Computer System. It examines how the Atari VCS was produced – how the cultural and economic contexts shaped the hardware – and perhaps more importantly, how it was used by videogame programmers.
This is the first book in an MIT book series called Platform studies, which somewhat surprisingly claims to introduce a new academic field. Hasn’t these sociotechnical studies been done many times before, both by scholars and other writers? There are hundreds of books about the social and the technological. Yeah, sure. But the point is that they are usually focusing on either technology or the social. Social scientists don’t code, and computer scientists don’t know sociocultural theory: they are two cultures. Eventhough that’s not really true, what is true is that Montfort & Bogost’s idea of Platform studies attentuates to “both sides” and “no sides” at the same time. They’re bringing social theory past the level of software, to the bare metal that feeds our data souls.
And that’s difficult. I know, because that is what I am currently doing with my thesis about chipmusic. It is, of course, crucial to use both technical and social perspectives – a perfect example of the relevance of platform studies. There is no way of understanding the personal motivations and (sub)cultural fields without studying the hardware. But of course, a soundchip is not much in itself. It is given meaning by software, people, culture and economics; it is society that continuosly shape both the materiality of and the conceptions about soundchips. The materiality has all the potential uses inside from the start, but maybe only certain sociocultural settings brings it forth.
Anyway, Montfort & Bogost recently published a paper, addressing some of the critique they have been receiving, most of which seem rather predictable considering their novel approach inbetween ‘two cultures’. It’s an interesting read, and while you’re at it you should also read their book(s). Oh, and as a nice coincidence Ian Bogost showed his Atari work Guru Meditation at Pixxelpoint where also e.g. HT Gold also was shown. And, well, tons of other good low-fi oriented stuff by Florian Cramer, Rosa Menkman, Vuk Cosic, Math Wrath, Ubermorgen.com, Tonylight, and many others!
(btw, the title of the blog post was taken from here)