When Users Were Makers: Hobbyist Magazines in the Microcomputer Era

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Once upon a time, the best way to get games onto an 8-bit microcomputer was to type them in yourself. Magazines for computer hobbyists contained program listings for games that were not only fun to play, but gave a generation of users both knowledge and permission to hack on their machines and become creators themselves.

This presentation looks at some of the magazines that defined the micro era and describe how they fostered a culture of active media participation, creative recombination, and independent creation that is reflected in the current day indie and maker scenes.

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When Users Were Makers: Hobbyist Magazines in the Microcomputer Era

  1. 1. WHEN USERS WERE MAKERS Hobbyist Magazines in the Microcomputer Era Josh Lee, Floor Is Lava IndieCade East February 16, 2014
  2. 2. Hi! • • Josh Lee Floor Is Lava • • • • Solar Surfing in Opti Space Voyage of the Starship Lexicon etc. Professional Middle-Aged Grump
  3. 3. Topics Computer magazines as a resource for learning to make games • • • • Evolving relationships between users and computers Maintaining permission to play with games Old stuff is neat and old
  4. 4. Once Upon a Time in the 1980s
  5. 5. What is a computer? • • Mainframe → Mini → Micro Framing shifts with hardware
  6. 6. 1970s • • Microcomputer kits Computer as hardware
  7. 7. 1980s • • Home/personal computers Computer as software
  8. 8. Booting Up • • Built-in BASIC Programming is the first thing you do
  9. 9. Your First Program
  10. 10. Bare Metal, Day One
  11. 11. Who is the User? • • • Mainframe vs. Micro users Ownership Care & feeding • They didn’t call it PET for nothing
  12. 12. Owner = User = ? • • The owner is the user The user is the... hacker?
  13. 13. Anyone with a computer can and should program it
  14. 14. Getting the Most Out of Your Computer
  15. 15. User = Programmer • • But how do you learn? Manuals, books, etc.
  16. 16. Magazines! • • • Compute!, Byte, RUN, Nibble, Antic, 80 Micro, etc. Resources for hobbyist computer users Defining “hobbyist,” “computer,” and “user”
  17. 17. Articles • • • News and features Product reviews Tips and tricks
  18. 18. Programming • • • Tutorials & Hacks Utilities & productivity Games, natch
  19. 19. Contributors • • • Reader submissions Freelancers Hobbyists – like you!
  20. 20. Code Listings • • Pages and pages of free code BASIC, usually
  21. 21. Multiplatform Programs • v
  22. 22. Machine Language • Crossroads II, Compute!’s Gazette, Dec. ’88
  23. 23. Checksum Programs • Error checking monitors
  24. 24. Doing It Yourself • • Performing magic Labor adds worth
  25. 25. Active participation in the production of media
  26. 26. From User to Maker
  27. 27. Rote Transcription • • Not just mindless drudgery Learning as you type
  28. 28. Possession & Permission • Time + Labor = Ownership • • (not in the IP sense, but who cares?) You built it, you can rebuild it
  29. 29. Playful Modification Play the game / Play with the game • Tweaking, splicing, remixing: Hacking! •
  30. 30. Independent Creation Full command over your computer • • Creating for yourself
  31. 31. Permission to Create • Transcription → Modification → Creation • Promise → Means → Permission
  32. 32. Computer games are a craft medium
  33. 33. What Changed?
  34. 34. Computers Changed More affordable, usable, accessible • • • Less programmable An appliance, not a hobby
  35. 35. Users Changed • • Everyone is a user User ≠ programmer
  36. 36. The Game Changed • • • Professionalization of programming Separation between developers and users Narrative of the tortured artist
  37. 37. Where We Are Now
  38. 38. Sealed boxes • • • Closed platforms EULAs out the wazoo Pay to develop
  39. 39. Opaque dev tools • • • Engines and IDEs distance you from the machine Computers are abstractions, not toys Pro-am game building tools • • • Promise of “professional” quality without coding Constrained, exclusive
  40. 40. Chasing Success • • • Economic and/or artistic Focused on external goals rather than self-satisfaction No hobbies, only side jobs
  41. 41. Making games has become all work and no play.
  42. 42. Let’s Make Making Fun Things Fun Again.
  43. 43. Modern computing isn’t all bad! • • Accessibility, affordability The Internet: near-infinite resources
  44. 44. Maker Culture • • Crafts Hardware hacking Beware professionalization here too! •
  45. 45. • Modding, Sandboxes • • Total conversions Embedded scripting Redstone programming • Transcription → Modification → Creation •
  46. 46. Forking • • Github – intimidating Online sandboxes – fun! • • wonderfl, OpenProcessing, GLSL Sandbox Promise → Means → Permission
  47. 47. Reframing Independence • • • • Permission to mess around Permission to create Permission to explore Permission to play
  48. 48. Go play with your computer.
  49. 49. Thanks! • Josh Lee • • • • josh@floor.is @joshleejosh http://floor.is/lava Internet Archive – http://archive.org/details/computermagazines

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