Erkki Huhtamo is a Professor of Media History and Theory at UCLA who received his training at the University of Turku, Finland. He is a prominent media archaeology, writer and exhibition curator.
This essay appears in the Handbook of Computer Game Studies, published by MIT Press.
Slots of Fun, Slots of Trouble: An Archaeology of Arcade Gaming Edit
In this essay, Huhtamo offers a challenge to the tradition of "chronicle" based game histories by provide an archaeology of the arcade focused on human-machine interaction, culminating with the slot machine. He begins with rumination on David Sudnow's Pilgrim in the Microworld, considering how Sudnow describes the bodily experience of game play. Huhtamo surmises that games history still rests on its first generation, describing authors such as Kent, Burnham, Herman, Herz, Poole, etc.:
"All these writers belong to the first generation that grew up with electronic games; for them gaming became a powerful formative experience. This is both their strength and their weakness. It is a strength, in that the writers are all gamers familiar with their field, and observing it with the eys of a fan and an insider. It is a weakness, in that they often lack critical distance to their topic and are unable to relate it to wider cultural framework(s), including contemporary media culture" (4).
Huhtamo, in the interest of expanding game analysis, seeks to "excavate cultural and historical issues relevant for a critical assessment of the emergence of games as an interactive medium. My main emphasis will be the background of electronic games as a manifestation of the human-machine relationship" (4). He disregards narrative and mythic modes of gameplay, and focuses on the arcade, rather than domestic space. Once delimiting his terms, he crafts a trajectory based in the opposition between machines of labor and machines of relaxation. Huhtamo describes his method: "to correctly assess their 'uniqueness' media-archaeological excavations of the past may prove to be helpful. All cultural processes consist of interplay between continuity and rupture, similarity and difference, tradition and innovation; only their mutual proportions and emphases vary" (5). Here, however, we may struggle with what "media archaeological investigations" involve. Huhtamo does not describe any particular process of personally using, handling or otherwise relating to machines; nor does he provide an extended "close reading" of the technology itself. Rather, his work is a non-progressivist history based on tropes (or topi) of human-machine interaction--a history of the slot machine that begins not with "who built the slot machine" but with how we began having intimate encounters with machines.