Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Brad Sun. Video games have undeniably become a part of our culture. Quibble on about what makes something truly a piece of art if you must; if you were to stroll through any comic or geek convention, you’d find, amongst the hordes of Jedis and Harley Quinns, just as many Marios, Luigis, and Links. Aside from Nintendo’s ubiquitous cast of icons, what’s especially striking is just how prevalent small, independently created games are in the pop culture mindspace. Games like Minecraft, Five Nights at Freddy’s, and Undertale dominate young fandom. And while many of these games have now grown into massively successful franchises, their origins began not in expensive triple-A games, but in the minds of scrappy young programmers, often toiling away alone in their spare time to make their digital dreams a reality.
It is this pioneering spirit that is lovingly chronicled in The Art of Atari, a celebration of that distinguished breed of visionary nerds who, nearly half a century ago, turned a modest programming side project into a brand new platform of creative expression, one that has, without exaggeration, changed the world.
Video games are an inherently interactive medium, but never was this more true than in the age of Atari. Without realistic graphics or intricately plotted storylines, it was up to early players to not only master the simple (and, at times, punishing) mechanics of a given game, but at the same time mentally collaborate with its creators to bring the game’s world to life. It was only through sheer force of will and imagination that those crude blocky shapes would transform into an epic journey through outer space, a thrilling sporting event, or a gritty life or death military battle. And to aid in this shared storytelling experience, there was the box art.
Far from merely a way to market the game to potential consumers, box covers served as a crucial gateway into the worlds Atari sought to simulate, or as art director Bob Flemate once poetically put it, “What we sell is what happens in our minds and comes out through our hands.”
In The Art of Atari, Tim Lapetino gives this often overlooked aspect of early gaming its due. Page after page is filled with reproductions of these tiny painted masterpieces, some familiar, some obscure. By focusing on these images rather than the flashing pixels of the games themselves, Lapetino recognizes the crucial role they played in Atari’s success. Filled with over the top dynamism and the polished glow of airbrushed colors, they represented the promise of not just an exciting new game, but a whole new future of neon possibilities.
The quaint, wood-paneled Atari 2600 may be a nostalgia piece now (and it was no doubt nostalgia that birthed this book in the first place), but for the programmers and artists working in the ’70s and ’80s, video games were all about the future. It is this heady sense of unlimited potential that shines through in their art, even to the present day.
Beyond the splendid catalog of original illustrations, logos, and arcade cabinets, Lapetino also spotlights the men and women behind the iconic covers through candid behind-the-scenes photos and biographies. It’s a reminder that these images, burned into our collective consciousness since childhood, didn’t just spring into being beneath our Christmas trees, they were created by ambitious and talented craftsman who shaped a blossoming new medium. It is no coincidence that the new creations adored by the next generation of gamers so often share that same hungry underdog energy. The ambition, excitement, and boundless creativity of these industry originators fill The Art of Atari, a wonderfully curated chronicle of a singular moment in our shared cultural history.
By Tim Lapetino.
Foreward by Ernest Kline.
Afterword by Robert V. Conte.