The Vectrex Arcade System

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 by sdileonardi

I’m going to be very honest in this post and admit that I went to the MAL with the intentions of doing some tinkering and exploring with unfamiliar technologies, but instead I was absorbed into the Vectrex Arcade System, a kind of proto-gaming console. I spent about twenty minutes attempting to make a frame-by-frame animation with very unimpressive results, when I decided to fall back on the console’s go-to game: Mine Storm, the 1982 predecessor to Asteroids. I confess, at this point I was just having fun. But the moment seemed to retain a valuable lesson for the media archaeologist.

Decades stood between me and the last time I held a joystick, yet the familiarity of it sank in immediately, like the proverbial riding a bike. The simplicity of the control apparatus forces a comparison to my more recent experiences with video game controllers, such as the complex Xbox controller, which among its many buttons actually wields two mini-joysticks, operated solely by the thumbs.  But stronger than the contrast, the experience generated distant comparisons. That is, I was reminded of the long after-school hours I would spend playing Asteroids on my family’s first desktop computer, long after the Vectrex had become obsolete, or the times I would play Pong on my neighbor’s Atari. Then of course, there was the Christmas my brother and I received our first gaming system: the original NES.

I wonder if there is a way to tie in some of our concerns from our first seminar regarding the separation of the body and a truly Kittler-inspired media archaeological analysis of technology. One of the most compelling aspects of my experience with the Vectrex was its ability to inspire a technological affect that transcends mere sentimentality. The very design, feel, and functionality of the Vectrex was engaged in this affective resonance. It was not just the game I was playing, or the memory of it, but the feel of the joystick, the dimensions of the screen, and the flashing twitch of the monitor. The unique aspects of this particular console produced a somatic connection that I think may be worth pursuing epistemologically. 

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2 comments on “The Vectrex Arcade System

  1. Jason Scott says:

    Technically, it wasn’t a Proto console system. It was absolutely a console system.

  2. Lori Emerson says:

    Sean, you walk right up to some fascinating questions I’d love to see you delve more deeply into perhaps in future posts – do you think the Vectrex gives rise to a more vivid affective experience than other computing devices? While it’s possible its simplicity helps create a kind of longterm bodily imprint, I also wonder whether all technologies do this and rather than use Kittler to understand this affect, it sounds more McLuhanesque – ie you had a very specific experience of the Vectrex both as a medium with its own message and also as an extension of yourself. Anyways, looking forward to reading more from you along these lines.

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