Between Pixels and Play: the role of the photograph in videogame nostalgias

This weekend I’ll be heading down to Margate to the Nostalgias: Visual Longing conference (8th -10th November 2013), where I’ll be giving a paper about videogame arcades, nostalgia and the photographs I’ve found on Flickr capturing/documenting some of these spaces in the 1980s. Here’s the abstract:

Between Pixels and Play: the role of the photograph in videogame nostalgias

The histories of videogames are so often contained with nostalgia for the screen, for the arcade, console, computer or game box design, and for the experience of playing itself. As Suominen (2008) notes, “the past is present in a person’s own memories of playing, and, among other things, in the collective memory represented on the Internet”. In preserving the videogame, all of these components from recorded gameplay, to the cartridges/discs and walkthroughs associated with the game themselves become necessary to provide a comprehensive picture of the game as captured through various moments in time (Newman 2013). Nostalgia for the videogames of the 1980s often focuses on the design, of what we can term ‘nostalgia for the pixel’. The constant influx of re-made and re-marketed versions of ‘classic’ videogame titles (Kline et al. 2003) seek to keep this nostalgia alive for generations to come.

However, the photographs of the videogame arcade through the work of Ira Nowinski’s “Bay Area Video Arcades”, along with various amateur photographs now archived on Flickr, allow us to remember beyond the pixel, beyond the stereotypical, albeit now iconic imagery of Pac-Man (Namco 1980), Space Invaders (Taito 1978) and PONG (Atari 1972). The essence of play becomes captured in the photograph, as a “collective memory”, and “reflective nostalgia” (Boym 2001) for the places, times and actions inherent in the histories of the early 1980s videogame era. It is through debating the so often implied “reconstructed nostalgias” (Boym 2001) offered by videogame companies to consumers in their re-makes of classic game titles that this paper explores “reflective nostalgia” of videogames by examining the role of photographs taken during the act of playing these games. In doing so it reframes 1980s videogame nostalgias beyond the “mediated space” (Nitsche 2008) of the screen and instead moves towards the “play space” as another way of keeping these histories alive.


  • Boym, S. (2001) The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books.
  • Kline, S, Dyer-Witheford, N. and de Peuter, G. (2003) Digital Play: the interaction of technology, culture, and marketing. Quebec: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
  • Newman, J. (2012) Best Before: Videogames, supersession and obsolescence. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
  • Nitsche, N. (2008) Video Game Spaces. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Suominen, J. (2008)FCJ-075 The Past as the Future? Nostalgia and Retrogaming in Digital Culture’ in The Fibreculture Journal, no.11.