Video games are now history

From left, Warren Spector, Richard Garriott, George Sanger, and Bill Bottorff at a University of Texas Videogame Archive fundraiser.

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TESS VIGELAND: One of the godfathers of the video game industry launched a new game today. Richard Garriott's "Tabula Rasa" -- the final episode in something called the Ultima series -- is a far cry from the computer simulations he made before there even was a video game industry. And how things have changed. Last year U.S. video game sales topped $7 billion, according to the Entertainment Software association. From Austin, Texas, David Martin Davies reports on a new archive that's preserving the origins of the industry.


DAVID MARTIN DAVIES: For hardcore gamers, Richard Garriott is something of a rock star. Standing in an Austin restaurant and arcade to launch Tabula Rasa he's surrounded by adoring fans who want his autograph.

FAN: "Thank you for, ah ... When I was a teenager I had some problems in my life, and some of your games really helped me out.

RICHARD GARRIOTT: All right. Fantastic. Oh, thank you so kindly. That's very nice of you to say that. Here's a poster for you, sir.

Garriott is a hero to his fans, but he describes himself as a nerd. While in high school in the early 1980's Garriott started making computer games, selling them at the local computer store, then helped grow gaming into the juggernaut of an industry that it is today.

GARRIOTT: It's been interesting to watch how it's gone -- how this industry has gone -- from being a computer-nerd, separatist activity -- to really being something that is now a very broadly accepted and adopted part of the universal culture of our planet.

Garriott and other pioneers are joining forces with the University of Texas to create a video game archive. Don Carlson is the director of the U.T. Center for American History, which will run the archive.

DON CARLSON: You know, one of the misunderstandings is that we're going to become some huge museum of video games. I mean, we will have examples of video games, but our interest is documenting how these video games were created.

When Carlson says documenting, he means paper. Lots of it. The bulk of the archive will consist of original sketches and hand-drawn flow charts of some of the first games. Some of these "documents" are scraps of graph paper with doodles of monsters in the corner. Brenda Gunn is in charge of the collection

BRENDA GUNN: Well, I asked my husband who is a big gamer what he thought and his reaction was, "Oh my goodness, you have the coolest job in the world."

But it's not all fun and games. Gunn has to organize all this paper. And she's a little overwhelmed. She's finding out that these game designers are pack rats.

GUNN: They tell us that they've got their garages and their multiple storage units full of things.

After the material is catalogued it will be made available to researchers. And it will lay the foundation for an eventual degree program -- Video Game Studies. And your parents told you playing the Xbox was a waste of time. Little did "they" know.

GUNN: Well it's a multibillion-dollar industry and it drives changes in computer technology. And whether you play games or not, you're buying a PC or a Macintosh in some form or another and the developments for those computers have been driven by games.

As for video game god Garriott, he's gotten beyond the revenge of the nerds. He's a millionaire, and he's seeing the industry he helped create get the respect it deserves.

GARRIOTT: You know, I go back to the earliest days where, you know, most businesses looked at it with some scorn -- or at least ignored it, you know, out of insignificance.

No longer insignificant, video gaming is now American history.

In Austin, I'm David Martin Davies for Marketplace.

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