I've been on a kick of nostalgia lately. It's very strange, 1970's nostalgia. What's strange about it, is I was born in 1981, so why on earth should I be nostalgic? Well, It's not really that I'm nostalgic for the 1970's so much as I'm fascinated by the distorted world depicted by advertisements and movies from the 1970's. There is a very recognizable design Aesthetic. Particularly in the videogame systems, and advertisements for them.
Wood panelling, huge metal switches, trapezoidal shapes and angles. Black joysticks, rounded corners, big red round buttons. Big round friendly typeface. It's got one foot in the 70's and one foot in the 80's. There is a very certain and recognisable design language bound up in the Atari 2600. It has a strange effect on me that I can't describe. The sort of warm fuzzy effect something can only have on you if it formed a central role in your early developing childhood. I can remember with some fondness centipede, pacman, space invaders, missile commander, pitfall, and others.
Because the atari 2600 has a design language, it means you can speak the language in art and design, and reproduce it in new works. You could make a room, for instance, that looks like an atari 2600. The grated wood paneling along the walls, trapesoidally angled shelves, big round metal switches for the lights, labelled with that friendly round bauhaus inspired typeface. stained glass windows with big blocky shapes and primary colors. Black furniture with rounded colors, and recliners activated by big round red buttons.
You could make a TV in the same language, with an integrated atari console, all bound up in what might have been thought of as the pinnacle of gaming in 1979. Have a look at the earlier Atari consoles- They have some extra switches, additional to "power" and "reset". There was also "Game A <-> Game B" and "Difficulty Level: Hard, Medium, Easy". They give a sense of modularity and uniformity in the games that was never realized in the actual software. But what if it was? What if games continued along those same lines of thought? What if a sequel console to the atari featured not just those switches, but also two cartridge slots?
Two cartridge slots? What would that mean? Well, perhaps it would finally give meaning to the "Game A <--> Game B" switch. But what if you plugged in two cartridges and it combined them in some way? The rules of one game's character being applied to the other game's mechanics and levels. Or the colors from one applied to the backgrounds to the other? Or maybe they'd be played split screen, with player one playing game A, while player 2 plays game B. If there's no player 2, perhaps player 1 plays both games simultaneously, her controller input being fed into both games at once.
Maybe instead of split screen, they are overlayed?
Maybe the atari has more switches. Aside from game difficulty, you're also able to swap out things like graphics sets, or fine grained control like paddle size ( As you can configure in some modern pong games).
It's a world that never existed, because it can't work in reality. But it can work in a painting or a sculpture. A whole parallel world of gaming, a pathway we never went down. What if we explore it now?