Weaver MALS ’75, CAS ’76 to Co-Direct Smithsonian’s Video Game Pioneers Archive

ChristopherWeaverChris Weaver MALS ’75, CAS ’76, visiting professor in the College of Integrative Sciences at Wesleyan, was appointed co-director of the Video Game Pioneers Archive at the Smithsonian Institute’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. This one-of-a-kind initiative will record oral-history interviews with first-generation inventors of the video game industry, creating a multimedia archive that will preserve the evolution of the industry in the words of its founders. The archive will offer scholars and the public the opportunity to better understand the personalities, technologies, and social forces that have driven interactive media to become one of the largest entertainment businesses of all time.

The Lemelson Center became interested in the video game industry while working to acquire the basement laboratory of the late Ralph Baer, considered the father of the video game industry. The Baer family and the Smithsonian wanted to expand on the importance of video games in today’s society so they tapped Weaver, someone with his own remarkable career in the industry and a close friend of Baer, to take the helm as external director, working side-by-side with Arthur Daemmrich, director of the Lemelson Center. This partnership has resulted in the creation of the Video Game Pioneers Archive, a long-term, massive undertaking—and a first for the Smithsonian—made even more unique by the fact that, according to Weaver, “no other industry in the history of technology has ever created anything like this. This archive will be a comprehensive recording of the creation of an industry as told by its founders.”

Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

Weaver envisions the archive will have both wide appeal and the opportunity to spark further technological advances. “Through physical exhibits and virtual access, the Video Game Pioneers Archive has the potential to touch hundreds of millions of people around the world and teach them about the relationships between disruptive technologies, their application across disciplines, and the resulting societal influence,” said Weaver. “This is exactly the sort of thing we are seeing happen with the outgrowth of the video game industry into areas as disparate as vehicular training and medicine.”

When asked to name his favorite aspect of working on the archive, Weaver noted that both the current work as well as its future ramifications were important to him. “Working to design and create the archive is a remarkable opportunity not just to participate in, but to influence the direction of the large-scale effort long into the future,” he said. Weaver hopes the archive will help scholars obtain insights into the development of the video game industry, as well as make a number of additional discoveries, which he hopes can be “applied across every industry to better understand the nature of those who possess the capacity to innovate and invent.”

Reflecting on his time at Wesleyan, weaver believes his liberal arts education prepared him for this project by providing him with experience in working across educational disciplines. “The ability to look past the immediate is one of the reasons I have been able to visualize and help create many influential technologies and products,” he noted, adding that this project paves the way for similar archival projects in the future. “Given its unique structure and materials, such as computer code, graphic art, and other valuable artifacts supplementing the oral histories, we have the opportunity to provide a blueprint for how a developing technical industry can best be preserved for future study.”

Weaver, a video game pioneer himself, founded Bethesda Softworks in 1986. Among other advances, he was one of the first programmers to incorporate physics into sports games and his company was tapped by Electronic Arts to write the first John Madden Football.

He is a visiting professor in the College of Integrative Sciences at Wesleyan and a distinguished scholar and lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This spring he will teach CIS 250 Computational Media: Video Game Design and Development, a cross-disciplinary course.