The curious history, technology, and technocultural context of Nintendo's short-lived stereoscopic gaming console, the Virtual Boy.
The console was red. The (revolutionary!) stereoscopic 3D graphics were red. And shortly after its vaunted release in 1995, Nintendo's balance sheet was in the red. Of all the failures the games industry has witnessed over the years, perhaps the most famous—or infamous—was the Virtual Boy. Why the Virtual Boy failed is one question Joseì Zagal and Benj Edwards explore in Seeing Red, but even more interesting to the authors is what the platform was: what it promised, how it worked, and where it fit into the evolving story of gaming.
A red-and-black standalone tabletop video game console that featured stereoscopic 3D graphics, the Virtual Boy was released by Nintendo in 1995—and was quickly discontinued after lackluster sales and lukewarm critical reception. In Seeing Red, Zagal and Edwards examine the device's technical capabilities, the games that were created for it, and the cultural context in the US in the 1990s when it was developed and released. The Virtual Boy, in their account, built upon and extended a historical tradition in immersive, visually engaging entertainment that was largely unexplored in video games at the time. The authors show how the platform has a "softography" of games with a distinct shared visual aesthetic style that has not been significantly developed or explored since the Virtual Boy's release, having been superseded by polygonal 3D graphics. The platform's meaning, they contend, lies as much in its design and technical capabilities and affordances as it does in an audience's perception of those capabilities.
Offering rare insight into how we think about video game platforms, Seeing Red illustrates where perception and context come, quite literally, into play.
Joseì P. Zagal is Professor at the University of Utah's Entertainment Arts & Engineering program. He is the author of Ludoliteracy, coeditor of The Videogame Ethics Reader, and Editor-in-Chief of Transactions of the Digital Games Research Association. Zagal has been honored as a DiGRA Distinguished Scholar and a Fellow of the Higher Education Video Game Alliance for his contributions to games research.
Benj Edwards is a tech historian and journalist. He is currently the AI and Machine Learning reporter for Ars Technica and a tech journalist for The Atlantic, Wired, Macworld, PC World, Fast Company, and other publications. Edwards is also the Editor-in-Chief of Vintage Computing and Gaming, a contributor to the Retronauts podcast, and creator of The Culture of Tech podcast.
“Seeing Red makes good on the promises of media archaeology and platform studies by excavating the roots of an oft-derided 'minor platform' and demonstrating how market failures are viable and valuable objects of media analysis.”
Nathan Altice, Associate Teaching Professor of Computational Media at UC Santa Cruz; author of I AM ERROR
“Seeing Red offers the best kind of platform study, engaging with the technology, marketing, and afterlife of the Virtual Boy and finding rich sources of insight and knowledge in a platform many consider a 'failure.'”
Mia Consalvo, Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design, Concordia University; coauthor of Real Games
The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding and support from MIT Press Direct to Open