The magazine I chose to explore was Crash, a publication spanning from 1984-1991 that primarily focused on games for the ZX Spectrum home computer. The article I specifically chose to focus on is in Crash’s 8th issue released in September of 1984 and is an interview with a young game developer releasing games for the ZX Spectrum system. By exploring the content of this interview as well as comparing it to later advertisements in the same Crash edition, there is a lot that can be extrapolated about how computer systems and accessories were being represented. Especially with this edition being released in the later half of what is considered the early years of the home computer, a lot of the methods of representation hint at and foreshadow the capitalist future that computers would have.
The interview is called “The Virgin Sorcerer” (which is an insane name) and it tells the story of Martin Wheeler, a 15 year old game developer who has made two very popular games for the Spectrum system with Virgin Games. The first thing I noticed was how the interview made sure to emphasize Martin’s age, opening the interview by saying how when he joined Virgin Games he “was still 14”. Later, they continue this emphasis of his youth by asking questions like “How do your friends react to you [making video games]” and getting responses like “they’re all pretty astonished” (Crash 08). This question in itself tells us a lot about how computers and computer games were being represented in marketing at the time. Not only was there a push to show the multi-faceted usages of them, how they could be used by all members of the household for a plethora of different things, but simultaneously there seems to be a push to involve the youth in the creation of these computers and their accessories. The interview works to represent both the computer and its industry as a career opportunity for young kids, as well as a way for them to bond with their friends, highlighting it as ‘the hip new thing’.
I found this interesting as we talked a lot in class about the home computer being this incredible, new, unknown invention. We watched that one series of videos teaching people how to use it and it was treated as this magical new creation that everybody is still learning how to use. Now that time has passed and the computer has evolved, there are now regular people like Martin who are able to be involved in the production of these machines. This is the first step in the standardization and expansion of these machines, turning them into a capitalist commodity as opposed to some mysterious force.
The magazine explores this further with how it handles its graphics. Later on in the issue, there is a page advertising some more accessories for the ZX Spectrum. On this page, the descriptions of the products are incredibly small and almost illegible compared to the size of the images of the product and most importantly the price. Looking even further, every price on this page is not just a price, but a price cut with the original slashed through price being the largest text on the page. This is seen also in the interview with the interviewer asking if Martin thinks “the games are too expensive?” (Crash 08). Martin’s answer is a resounding yes with him even directly saying that he “thinks the price should go down” (Crash 08). This shows how the computer has already begun to take over the industry. With prices rapidly inflating, the page of price cuts shows how companies began playing the market to get the most sales, fully showing the transformation of the computer from an unknown, new invention to one of the major parts of modern business.
Throughout the interview, there are some more interesting questions asked that indicate more ideas of how video games and other computer products were represented at the time. For example, many questions are asked that work to humanize both Martin and the interviewer themselves. They ask if Martin has a girlfriend, what his other hobbies are and even how much money makes, acknowledging that the last of the three “is a cheeky question” (Crash 08). These questions work to make everyone involved seem more relatable; a way of injecting personhood into the cold, metallic shell that is the computer. I also found it interesting how the idea of software piracy is brought up. Just like the ideas of capitalism in computers, it is interesting to see the first iterations of an idea that would become so prevalent now. It is also interesting how Martin’s response to the idea of pirating software by saying that the people that do “probably haven’t got the pocket money” (Crash 08). This works as another example of the capitalism of computers, as well as how they started as more of a hard to obtain luxury.