Elon Musk’s “Blastar” for the Spectravideo – PC and Office Technology

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The first thing that needs to be addressed when looking at this advertisement is that it simply isn’t eye-catching. There are no flashy designs, bright colors or standout graphics that stand out to the reader. In fact, the entire advert is simply black and white with basic geometric designs and is dominated by technical writing. So if the author of this advertisement was willing to spend the money to place it in a magazine, why not try to maximize its appeal?

While the advertisement itself doesn’t grab your attention, the sharp, angular geometric shapes in the upper half of the article does, directing your attention to a small block of text. The sparing use of designs combined with the simple use of black and white highlights how the author was heavily focused on the content of the article, and wanted the readers to be as well. In the brief description of the game offered, Musk uses many key works to highlight intriguing aspects of his game, as to appeal to his audience. Additionally, he draws attention to more technical aspects that would be interesting to a more technical crowd. While this small paragraph is very brief, it highlights important elements of the program that could appeal to readers, and in this sense it acts as a replacement to more conventional forms of advertisement. As such, the article is effectively split into two parts, with the upper half being the “hook” and the bottom being the more technical aspects. In a way, the design offered in the upper half draws attention to a very small piece of text that makes it easy to digest and not bore readers with too much verbiage. The use of simple yet focused designs, in combination with a matter-of-fact tone, give the article a very up-front and rugged feel, something hard to come by in the commercialized age.


To better understand the seemingly bleak imagery in this advertisement one must first understand exactly who it was directed at, and the trends present in the world at the time. To begin, at the time there was no way to “install” a program onto your computer easily. While devices such as floppy discs existed, getting a niche video game would be extremely challenging. And as such, many people chose to simply print the code for their game in magazines in hope that people would take the time to manually copy it into their own PC. In the instance of Elon Musk’s game Blastar in this advert, the user would likely have to copy around 1650 lines of code, which is no small task. From this alone, it is clear that the advertisement wasn’t targeted at your average consumer, after all, middle aged parents were unlikely to be flipping through niche magazines in hope of finding a new video game. To many, as shown in a 1985 article in The Chicago Tribune written by Peter H. Lewis, this exact criteria alienated a large group of consumers once thrilled about the opportunities a PC provided. Without access to the internet and a wide database of programs, PC owners had to take initiative and learn how to utilize their new machine, something that many people found themselves unwilling to do. But at the same time, the article draws attention to resources like magazines and computer clubs designed for people truly interested in the subject, and it was through these resources people developed their love for computers. This disparity highlights how many more technical advertisements like Musk’s gave little care to the general population as they were frankly unlikely to even have the technical wherewithal to use the program even if they found it interesting.

The conscious choice to appeal to a small niche group of people that were hyper-invested in video games was a decision based on the trend of video games in general. As commented on by Jame Peltz in the January 1984 edition of the Associated Press, written just 11 months before the publication of Musk’s game, “the once high-flying video-game industry will keep contracting largely because of personal and home computers”. As the computing power of home devices increased, it began to cut into the market of niche video-game specific devices similar to those found in arcades. After watching a recreation of Blastar, while rudimentary and limited by the processing power of the Spectravideo platform, the game appears similar to other popular games of the time like Galaga and Space Invader. This increased computing power essentially created an entire new industry revolving around transporting the video game experience to the home, and programmers like Musk were on the forefront of this change. As noted in the Associated Press article, many tech giants of the era like Atari and Texas Instruments lost huge amounts of money attempting to enter the home market. These companies simply couldn’t beat the pricing and utility of home computers that served as a workstation and video game console. Additionally, the ability for individuals to compete in this space against tech giants led to many people’s fascination of computers?created groups of people fascinated by computers. In the case of Blastar, a 12 year old Elon Musk coded the game and sold it to PC and Computers Magazine for $500, which is now $1,477 as of 2023. The potential for profit and fun in this space drew people in, and as this community grew, more and more became tailored to them. 

While the article itself does not depict personal computers in any specific way, its features allow readers to build an idea of the world that it fits into. In this world, computers are neither solely for play or work, but as an extension of someone’s interests and a means for people to explore, learn new things and have new experiences. The user could find a spreadsheet program and use it for work, while also playing a game they just discovered, all while being a member of a BBS. The sparing use of imagery, basic colors and minimal text all represent a trend in the use of personal computers, as a means of interest seeking and freedom. People were now free to play whatever games they could get their hands on, no longer constrained by the large companies of the time. Likewise, they could communicate with people they could otherwise never reach, or even use their computers to simplify their jobs. While this example falls into the realm of play, the features seen in its advertising point to larger trends nationwide as people began to see computers as a path to more freedom and as a pathway to access new things. The advert doesn’t place Musk’s game into any specific context, or depict it in any environment, as at its core this new age allowed games such as Blastar to be used in any way the consumers want, whether a way to explore new technology or as a game meant to be played, beaten, and enjoyed. 

Works Cited

O’Kane, Sean. “Play the PC Game Elon Musk Wrote as a Pre-Teen.” The Verge, The Verge, 9 June 2015, http://www.theverge.com/2015/6/9/8752333/elon-musk-blastar-pc-game. 

Lewis, Peter H. “HOW TO PUT SOME LIFE IN A BEEPING PERSONAL COMPUTER: [FINAL, ND EDITION].” Chicago Tribune (pre-1997 Fulltext), Feb 22, 1985, pp. 52. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/how-put-some-life-beeping-personal-computer/docview/290812500/se-2.

“More Technology, Marketing To Dominate ’84; Video Games Get Zapped”. The Associated Press, January 1, 1984, Sunday, BC cycle. advance.lexis.com/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:3SJ4-K8N0-0011-60TN-00000-00&context=1516831. Accessed September 22, 2023.

“Blastar Elon Musk Spectravideo 318 / 328 : Elon Musk : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming.” Internet Archive, 1 Jan. 1984, archive.org/details/blastar-elon-musk-spectravideo.

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