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OxDEG: The Intellivision System: Video Game History, Affordance Zones, and Productive Constraint

Date & Time:
16:30 - 18:00,
Monday 19 October, 2020
Event Series:
Online Webinars



In this talk, I present work in progress related to the book manuscript Intelligent Visions: The Intellivision System, Video Games, and Society, which I am coauthoring with Braxton Soderman (Department of Film and Media Studies, University of California, Irvine). Intellivision, developed by Mattel Electronics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is an important but understudied home video game system. In this informal talk I will first discuss the concepts and methods used in the research, which thus far includes over 120 interviews and 20,000 pages of archival data. I will then provide an overview of our project, which brings a systems approach to the field known as “platform studies” and includes detailed attention not only to game design and programming, but marketing, testing, advertising, quality assurance, corporate structure, and competition. The many concepts we are developing in this project include “productive constraint,” “affordance zones,” and “transplatform.” To illustrate some aspects of our analysis, I will discuss two case study examples: the turning of a bug into a feature in Utopia, one of the first world-building games, and PlayCable, likely the first downloadable game technology. Throughout I will discuss the implications of our methods and theories for game studies, the history of technology, and social inquiry in the broadest sense.


Tom Boellstorff is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he is the author of many articles and the books The Gay Archipelago, A Coincidence of Desires, and Coming of Age in Second Life. He is also coauthor of Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method and coeditor of Data, Now Bigger and Better! A former Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association, he coedits the Princeton University Press book series “Princeton Studies in Culture and Technology.”

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  • Name: Tom Boellstorff
  • Affiliation: Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine
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