As the old adage goes, “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Yet, what is the history of the games industry? How do you study it, especially as an outsider?
Rudimentary history classes typically focus on the what. Students memorize dates and events, but they don’t focus on the why. That’s left to the higher level history classes. I always hated the rote memorization required of me in history classes when I was younger. They instilled a distaste for the subject and they failed to impart any important lessons. Yet, a good study of the why behind the events is both interesting and educational.
Prior to 2000, when I took my first job in the industry, I couldn’t definitely explain the why behind any but the simplest history lessons of the industry. I could speculate on the why, but I had little to no means to test any such hypotheses to see if they held a grain of truth. Even then, I spent time working for magazines before I did indie work, which meant the scope of the learning was somewhat narrow.
Where is the history of the industry recorded? Where can a student or a professional learn what has taken place on more than a superficial level? Have game design and development schools added why-focused history classes? Is there any broad-yet-deep knowledge resource of our past, or do we still rely on an oral history that has no strong oral tradition?
I can scrounge through postmortems and read superficial games industry time lines. There are relics both real and fake strewn across the landscape. But they do not form a cohesive picture. They do not explain why half the postmortems cite the same mistakes. They do not provide the foundation for in depth analysis and a true history. We’re in a high tech industry with an incredible potential to gather data and knowledge. Why have we not done so?
If you know of an encyclopedia of the why behind the games industry, I’d love to hear about it.