The Art of Video Games” Interview with Video Game Pioneer Don Daglow

  • The Art of Video Games exhibition was on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum March 16 through September 30, 2012.

    DON DAGLOW: The obligation in the early days of games was heavily on the user for willing suspension of disbelief. That probably shows up in “Utopia”. We really did ask users to use their imagination, and because that whole idea of computer graphics telling a story was so fresh, they were ready to do it. Users would come with us, very willingly, in that setting.

    We don’t just entertain, but we reach out, we create an experience where after that experience, whatever joy and enjoyment they got out of it, maybe they’re also thinking about something in a different way as a result. It’s the old, art holds the mirror up to life, life then considers what life is about as a result of seeing itself in the mirror.

    At our best, we can bring people together in a way that’s even harder to do in theater and film because they are doing things together, they are setting out upon the quest together; they are facing the dangers, they are discussing the options, they’re making decisions, and they’re building community.

    I had a situation, and this is now almost twenty years ago, where I got a letter from a woman who was playing “Never Winter Nights” and the first paragraph was your standard letter. This was so long ago, this was a paper letter, it was not an email, and the first paragraph was your standard, “Thank you, I love your game,” which never gets old. You love getting those letters. But then the second paragraph says, “Actually, your game changed my life because I was basically a prisoner in my own home, my husband had become more and more abusive. He had a fanatical jealousy, he refused to let me out of the house except to go directly to and directly from work. I became a prisoner really in one bedroom of the house. And the one thing he didn’t realize is that he let me play on the computer, and that way he let me get out. And so I played “Never Winter Nights” and I formed friendships. Our group of friends would play together. And I got to know these people and finally I told them my real-world story in the game.” And I can picture this coming up in this primitive old font, maybe even on a machine as primitive as an Apple II, and they persuaded her to get out. She was afraid that he would kill her if she got out, and they said, “You’ve got to go get help. He could kill you if you stay.” And so she got out, got to a halfway house, got to a protected environment, and she was writing this letter from there saying, “Thank you. Your game gave me the people that got me out of there.” And I’ve never forgotten that letter. And that’s why I’m hopeful for what we do.