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Born Free: Gaming Software’s Noncommercial Roots, 1975-1988

Blizzard, Logan Wade (2021) Born Free: Gaming Software’s Noncommercial Roots, 1975-1988. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation is a critical-historical examination of noncommercial gaming culture for early micro-, home, and personal computers (1975-1988). Rather than accepting games and software as a natural expression of technologized late-capitalist culture, this project seeks to fill the historical gap between 1970’s hardware hobbyists and 1990’s internet-enabled filesharing, by examining the changing position of amateur software as the industry became the dominant force in computing culture in the late 1970’s. Through textual analysis of computer magazines, user-group newsletters, design documents, and marketing materials, combined with media archaeology of game programs, this project traces the resistant practices of amateur coders who rejected the discursively-constructed commercial norm. Drawing upon Marxist approaches to labor and technology, notably John Holloway’s conception of “other-doing,” this dissertation argues that reconstructing the noncommercial history of gaming software is crucial to reimagining computer technologies in the present, outside of a pro-industry commercialist paradigm.
The first chapter explicates the historical commercialization of computing culture, theorizing the possibility of noncommercial creation under late-capitalism, and the radical potential offered by amateurism. The second chapter examines the commercialization of computer magazines, examining the rhetorical means by which a larger commercialist paradigm took hold, and the category of “software piracy” developed. The third chapter offers a medium-specific analysis of the 5 ¼” floppy disk, positing that the floppy was more important as a medium for exchange than storage, allowing lay users to create and share games outside of commercial channels. The final chapter is a case study of the public-domain electronic literature series Eamon, and the centralized system of the National Eamon User’s Club. Though short-lived, the series represents the persistence of the amateur creative impulse in the face of the seeming totality of late-capitalism.
Located at the intersection of the history of technology, game studies, software studies, and history of the personal computer, this dissertation captures the development of a new technological form, and its attempted articulation into the late-capitalist commodity system. By decoupling innovation and commerce, of video games and neoliberalism, the project offers a new mode of noncommercial history, meant to recover alternative understandings of creative production.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Blizzard, Logan Wadelwb10@pitt.edulwb10
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairZboray, Ronaldzboray@pitt.eduzboray
Committee MemberMalin, Brenton J.
Committee MemberOlson, Lester
Committee MemberLangmead, Allison
Date: 3 May 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 31 March 2021
Approval Date: 3 May 2021
Submission Date: 5 April 2021
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 284
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: History of computing; software studies; videogame studies; amateurism; neoliberalism
Date Deposited: 03 May 2021 14:52
Last Modified: 03 May 2023 05:15


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