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Zap!: The Rise and Fall of Atari

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Scott CohenEdit

Scott Cohen is an obscure author whose only other works (according to Amazon.com) are three books published between 1979 and 1984 on entirely different topics: Boy George, semi-nude images and interviews with sports athletes, and a journalistic history of product makers like KFC and Fredericks of Hollywood.

Zap!: The Rise and Fall of Atari [1984]Edit

Cohen's work is truly a strange piece of journalism. The style is highly narrative, but largely reads like a "behind-the-scenes" business history (there is strong tonal overlap between this as "Down from the Top of its Game"). The book moreso covers the various personality clashes between key figures in Atari, particularly Nolan Bushnell and Ray Kasser. It's fairly loaded with information (which some Amazon reviewers regard as inaccurate) and includes smatterings of technical explanations. Little to no mention of specific games (which, curiously, also annoys some reviewers). The presence of the author is strangely dissociated from the text--it is often written as if from first-person observation, but the author never identifies his roll in the text, which causes a strange shift into an almost second-person perspective mode, as if you are watching things happen (the chapter with the analyst displays this most clearly). Interviews riddle the text, but the context and time period of these interviews is never given, nor or are the questions asked. This book contains a useful bibliography, but some sources remain nameless.

Of particular interest is Chapter 14, which makes a number of inaccurate historical predications, including that computers would be the death of video game consoles, all console marketing would head overseas, and that video games may not even stick around as a form of entertainment. This was written in 1983, in the midst of the video game collapse, but also one year before Nintendo shot into the scene. The Atari E.T. incident had also not yet gained the tremendous mythologization that it has today--it is barely of note in Cohen's text. The historical shortsightedness of this text is a gift, as it avoids the presumtive teleological histories that have now narratizing the patriarchal progression of video game history. It is a relic of possible genealogy.

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