Video games are a global industry, and their history spans dozens of national industries. Edited by Mark J. P. Wolf, Video Games Around the World covers gaming in areas as disparate and far-flung as Argentina and Thailand, Hungary and Indonesia, Iran and Ireland. On National Video Games Day, Mark J. P. Wolf reflects on the ambitious project of bringing together leading experts and game designers to discuss video game history and culture across all the world's continent.
The idea for Video Games Around the World came when I was editing my two-volume Encyclopedia of Video Games: The Culture, Technology, and Art of Gaming. Entries about the history of video games in various countries would come in from contributors, usually around a thousand words or so, and they were fascinating, but were so short that you only got a glimpse of what they were describing. I wanted to find out more, and thought there were enough entries on different countries and regions in the encyclopedia, that if I asked the same contributors to write full-length essays on their respective countries, I could have a nice collection of pieces on video game history around the world. So I started with the contributors I had, and decided to try to find more and fill in as much of the world as possible. That’s one of the things that makes an anthology like this more difficult to put together than the usual kind of anthology; besides the size of it, you have a set of topics that you must represent, and even missing one of them becomes noticeable and feels like the gap that it is. You can’t leave out Russia, or Mexico, or Japan, or the Middle East and give the feeling that you have covered the world; even missing one crucial essay would make the book feel incomplete. There had to be essays related to each continent, and each major national industry. (Completist that I am, I felt that in order to advertise that the book covered “every continent” something would have to be said about Antarctica, so I did some research and included a section on it in the Introduction.) So it was a matter of finding someone to write all the essays, and preferably people who were natives of the countries in question, and who understood the national context and culture firsthand, having grown up with it, or at least someone who had studied them in-depth.
It took a while to get all the contributors together. I know quite a few people writing about video games, and they often know a lot of people, and suggestions and recommendations were made. Occasionally I would even find some purely by chance; I hadn’t even thought about having an essay on Hungary, but I received an e-mail one day from Tamas Beregi, asking for advice, and it turned out he had written the first book in Hungarian on the history of video games, 450 pages in length, and was the perfect person to write an essay on Hungary. As it turned out, he was also doing a series of interviews of people in the Japanese game industry, and was instrumental in helping me to contact Toru Iwatani, the creator of Pac-Man, to write a Foreword for the book. Iwatani-san does not speak English, and I don’t speak Japanese, so it couldn’t have been done without intermediaries.
Language differences posed other difficulties as well. Naturally, as one might expect for a book like this, English was only a second language for most of the contributors. Editorially, this was one of the most challenging projects I have done, and all the contributors were very good sports about going back and forth in discussion so that everything could be clearly stated in English; it was humbling, too, as I was constantly aware of my own monolingual limitations as someone who spoke only English. Some essays required more drafts than others, but eventually it all worked out alright. Once the book was under way, it was tempting to keep going and keep adding essays, but at 700-plus pages, it’s about as much as you can do in a single volume. And ten years ago, you couldn’t even have done a book like this, as many national histories are only recently being compiled and told.
It was a great project to work on, and I am glad that it was possible to find so many good contributors, they were all a pleasure to work with. The essays make up a good collection and work well together, presenting a truly global portrait of the video game industry. And yet it’s obvious that a single essay is only scratching the surface of a whole national industry, even if that industry is only a decade or two old. But at least it’s a start, and hopefully one that will encourage more international collaborative scholarship.