April 8, 2005

Defending the Galaxy

by Nick Montfort · , 4:39 pm

Notes on Defending the Galaxy: The Complete Handbook of VideoGaming
edited by Michael Rubin
written by Michael Rubin, Carl Winefordner, and Sam Welker
illustrations by Rudy Young and Jeff Webber
photographs by Michael Rubin
Gainesville, Florida: Triad Publishing Company
224 pp.

I recently borrowed Defending the Galaxy from Paul Shaffer, who not only is currently the Eniac curator here at Penn, but also happens to have worked for Scott Adams of Adventure International back in the early 1980s as a play-tester.

In a nice list of video game firsts published in the February 1984 issue of Computer Games magazine, Defending the Galaxy is listed as “The first ‘complete’ guide to video gaming (manners, maladies, dress, etc.)” We might take this declaration with a grain of salt, because the list happens to be drawn up by Michael Rubin, the editor of Defending the Galaxy. But it turns out to be an interesting book, for reasons that may not be obvious at a glance.

A video game stance from Defending the GalaxyIn terms of format, the book is somewhat reminiscent of a magazine or a sort of small-scale Whole Earth Catalog. The book might have been shelved in “humor” when it was published. By cracking jokes and making then-current cultural references instead of doggedly focusing on the games themselves and how to get high scores, it documents the context of video gaming in ways that other books from the era don’t.

Many of the snippets that are included are clearly present for humor value, or just as filler, and don’t aim to inform the reader about video games. For instance, page 143, intended for the college-bound games, has a list of drinking ages by state, and, illustrated for some reason with a picture of a scientific calculator, “5 schools not known for their computer science departments.” (Number 1 is the Rhode Island School of Design.) This item makes a little more sense when you consider that that “15 great schools for computer science” is on the facing page — that article, curiously, lists only nine schools. Another example is the “Videology” section that reworks astrology by replacing the traditional signs and constellations with video game characters and symbols.* There is a whole section on “Video Wear,” mostly about clothing, with a sidebar on how suitable Op (Ocean Pacific) surfwear is for the arcade.*

The book does a bit more than just offer amusement, connecting formal video gaming to “real life” in places, sometimes more or less explicitly: “Gaming means battling a force that will inevitably do you in — a silicon sickle that will always reap you in the end.” * Here are a few points of interest:

6 Responses to “Defending the Galaxy

  1. scott Says:

    OP clothes were cool, very cool. They were all the rage in the Chicago suburbs. Surfing clothes for landlocked adolescents.

  2. Michael Rubin Says:

    how remarkable to see commentary on a 23 year old book… more specifically, MY 23-year-old book. While i’m generally blushing at the rather sophomoric humor, it should be noted that I was a freshman in college when I worked on it. Anyway, the facts were pretty well-researched and i am happy to provide, to the best of my recollection, whatever information any interested reader might have.

    Note: only 15,000 copies of DTG were sold. I imagine finding them today would be pretty challenging. Hang onto those rare copies!!

  3. nick Says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Michael. Your book certainly doesn’t sound like it was unpopular, but, unfortunately, it probably wasn’t collected by many libraries, so of those many copies, some will no doubt have gone the way of Op clothing. The book’s a great reminder of what arcades and video gaming were like at the beginning of the 1980s, though, and I’m glad I got to read and take notes on it. Thanks for putting it together, and good luck with your new book, too.

  4. Leo Daniels Says:

    Great book! There’s actually a few good copies available at amazon.com in great shape! I haven’t spoke to Michael Rubin in over 20 years! I was actually featured in the book and now they’re making a movie in Hi-Def about myself and the whole video game explosion of the 80’s.

  5. michael rubin Says:

    Leo, Great to hear about the HDmovie. I’d like to hear more. I begin a nationwide tour in a week or so, talking to people about my book about George Lucas and technology: DROIDMAKER. If i’m in a town near you i hope you’ll stop by. the Lucas story covers a lot about the dawn of videogames; it was very interesting to research this topic so long after DTGalaxy… i think any person into early videogames will really enjoy the tale in DROIDMAKER.

    Keep an eye out for it. I’d love to hear what y’all thought of it. Nationwide on Oct 25.


  6. Grand Text Auto » Updates on the Pursuit of Interactive Story Says:

    […] th checking out: Mike Rubin’s 3D IF game Vespers 3D (who appears also to have edited Defending the Galaxy), and Krisna Scott’s gorgeous Crimeface, billed as an […]

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