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 …

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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  • 1. WHEN USERS WERE MAKERS Hobbyist Magazines in the Microcomputer Era Josh Lee, Floor Is Lava IndieCade East February 16, 2014
  • 2. Hi! • • Josh Lee Floor Is Lava • • • • Solar Surfing in Opti Space Voyage of the Starship Lexicon etc. Professional Middle-Aged Grump
  • 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. Once Upon a Time in the 1980s
  • 5. What is a computer? • • Mainframe → Mini → Micro Framing shifts with hardware
  • 6. 1970s • • Microcomputer kits Computer as hardware
  • 7. 1980s • • Home/personal computers Computer as software
  • 8. Booting Up • • Built-in BASIC Programming is the first thing you do
  • 9. Your First Program
  • 10. Bare Metal, Day One
  • 11. Who is the User? • • • Mainframe vs. Micro users Ownership Care & feeding • They didn’t call it PET for nothing
  • 12. Owner = User = ? • • The owner is the user The user is the... hacker?
  • 13. Anyone with a computer can and should program it
  • 14. Getting the Most Out of Your Computer
  • 15. User = Programmer • • But how do you learn? Manuals, books, etc.
  • 16. Magazines! • • • Compute!, Byte, RUN, Nibble, Antic, 80 Micro, etc. Resources for hobbyist computer users Defining “hobbyist,” “computer,” and “user”
  • 17. Articles • • • News and features Product reviews Tips and tricks
  • 18. Programming • • • Tutorials & Hacks Utilities & productivity Games, natch
  • 19. Contributors • • • Reader submissions Freelancers Hobbyists – like you!
  • 20. Code Listings • • Pages and pages of free code BASIC, usually
  • 21. Multiplatform Programs • v
  • 22. Machine Language • Crossroads II, Compute!’s Gazette, Dec. ’88
  • 23. Checksum Programs • Error checking monitors
  • 24. Doing It Yourself • • Performing magic Labor adds worth
  • 25. Active participation in the production of media
  • 26. From User to Maker
  • 27. Rote Transcription • • Not just mindless drudgery Learning as you type
  • 28. Possession & Permission • Time + Labor = Ownership • • (not in the IP sense, but who cares?) You built it, you can rebuild it
  • 29. Playful Modification Play the game / Play with the game • Tweaking, splicing, remixing: Hacking! •
  • 30. Independent Creation Full command over your computer • • Creating for yourself
  • 31. Permission to Create • Transcription → Modification → Creation • Promise → Means → Permission
  • 32. Computer games are a craft medium
  • 33. What Changed?
  • 34. Computers Changed More affordable, usable, accessible • • • Less programmable An appliance, not a hobby
  • 35. Users Changed • • Everyone is a user User ≠ programmer
  • 36. The Game Changed • • • Professionalization of programming Separation between developers and users Narrative of the tortured artist
  • 37. Where We Are Now
  • 38. Sealed boxes • • • Closed platforms EULAs out the wazoo Pay to develop
  • 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. Chasing Success • • • Economic and/or artistic Focused on external goals rather than self-satisfaction No hobbies, only side jobs
  • 41. Making games has become all work and no play.
  • 42. Let’s Make Making Fun Things Fun Again.
  • 43. Modern computing isn’t all bad! • • Accessibility, affordability The Internet: near-infinite resources
  • 44. Maker Culture • • Crafts Hardware hacking Beware professionalization here too! •
  • 45. • Modding, Sandboxes • • Total conversions Embedded scripting Redstone programming • Transcription → Modification → Creation •
  • 46. Forking • • Github – intimidating Online sandboxes – fun! • • wonderfl, OpenProcessing, GLSL Sandbox Promise → Means → Permission
  • 47. Reframing Independence • • • • Permission to mess around Permission to create Permission to explore Permission to play
  • 48. Go play with your computer.
  • 49. Thanks! • Josh Lee • • • • josh@floor.is @joshleejosh http://floor.is/lava Internet Archive – http://archive.org/details/computermagazines