An in-depth exploration of a neglected video game platform of the 1990s and a reflection on the way we construct the cultural history of video games.
In The Media Snatcher, Carl Therrien offers an in-depth exploration of NEC's PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16, a little-studied video game platform released in the late 1980s. The PC Engine was designed to bring technological expandability to the world of game consoles; The Media Snatcher's subtitle evokes some of the expansions and the numerous rebranded versions of the system released by NEC, including the first CD-ROM add-on in video game history. The platform makers hoped that expandability would allow its console to remain at the cutting edge and even catch up with such perceptually rich media as cinema and anime. More than a simple shape-shifter, the PC Engine became a media snatcher.
Therrien examines the multidirectional interactions of video game technologies, commercial structures, and cultural dynamics. He considers, among other things, hyperbolic marketing and its impact on how we construct video game history; glitches, technological obsolescence, and the difficulty of conducting media archaeology of the recent past; the emergence of male-centered power fantasies through audiovisual rewards; the rise of original genres such as visual novels; and the sustained efforts to integrate PC Engine software in the sprawling media landscape of Japan (where the PC Engine found much of its success). Avoiding the usual techno-industrial glorification, Therrien recounts the bold technological aspirations of the platform makers and the struggles to make the actual technology realize its potential.
Carl Therrien is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Film Studies at the University of Montreal.
“Delightfully rich in technical and historical detail, The Media Snatcher illuminates a pivotal and previously underexamined platform. Therrien navigates the impact of CD-ROM technology on the distinct aesthetics of early digital games as they gained the technical capacity to reference a wider audio visual aesthetic. Significantly, this important work highlights how the new audiovisual elements of games often explicitly addressed a specifically heteronormative male audience.”
Tom Apperley, Senior Research Fellow, Tampere University, Finland
“Therrien leaves no stone unturned in piecing together the complex history of Hudson Soft and NEC's TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine system. Often overlooked by researchers and players in favor of consoles from Sega and Nintendo, the TurboGrafx is revealed to be an ambitious and innovative design that sought to combine the flexibility of the PC with the simplicity of the console. It is clear that the TurboGrafx-16 is a must-play platform just as this is a must-read book!”
James Newman, Professor of Digital Media, Bath Spa University, UK