In the 50th anniversary year of the slide car “Bobby Car” and the tennis simulation “Pong” by Atari, the world’s first popular video game, the annual conference of the German Gesellschaft für Designgeschichte (GfDG) will focus on games and toys from the 20th century — from board games to doll houses or system toys to the console games of the 1990s.
Call for Papers
For its annual conference in summer 2022, the GfDG is now calling for conference papers dedicated to the design of games, game forms and toys of industrial culture. Additionally, a special focus should be on digital games up to the year 2000.
Please send your abstract of up to 3,500 characters, a short biography of no more than 800 characters, and your contact information to cfp [at]gfdg.org by March 30, 2022. The conference language will be German.
Annual conference in the city of the International Toy Fair
The conference “Design for Play, Fun, Excitement — Designing Artifacts for Playful Action” will take place on July 1 and 2, 2022 in the “Haus der Wirtschaft” of the Nuremberg Chamber of Industry and Commerce. The conference venue is Nuremberg, famous for the largest toy fair in the world. Hosts are the Chamber of Industry and Commerce Nuremberg for Middle Franconia (IHK) and bayern design, the competence center for design of the Free State of Bavaria.
The historic merchant’s procession on the facade of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce with the motto “Nürnberger Tand geht durch alle Land” refers to the long tradition as a games metropolis, which is still alive today. The region is home to renowned game manufacturers, but Nuremberg is also an important center for design with its design collections in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum and Neues Museum, the design faculty at the Nuremberg University of Technology, and the headquarters of bayern design. Last but not least, the German Games Archive and the Toy Museum have collections of objects that are extremely relevant for historical design research.
Playing is part of human nature
Man as Homo ludens is by no means a phenomenon of modern times. The term was first coined in 1938 by Johan Huizinga. But the Dutch cultural historian describes play as a basic element of human culture, as a form of action through which cultural systems have always developed and been consolidated. Play is part of human nature, a constant in human history. But how we play, and with what, reveals much about our particular culture and the temporarily prevailing ideas.
With the beginning of the industrial age, developments in the field of play experience significant changes and constant expansions — in short, a new level of emergence. The division of labor, new materials, large-scale manufacturing methods, modern distribution channels and the use of electric drives create previously undreamed-of possibilities. They go far beyond a novel design of familiar game contexts. The inventions of engineers enter the playrooms in the form of model trains, technical construction kits or optical entertainment devices. New materials from the chemical industry, for example ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene copolymers), first used in the 1950s, form the basis for mass-produced toys from global brands such as Lego or Playmobil.
Enhanced experience on the computer
Computer technology finally provides the field of play with hitherto hardly imaginable expansions — also in the area of player life. Both the simulation of fellow players and the calculation of fictitious environments with their own physical laws create new kinds of perceptual experiences and lead to an unprecedented degree of immersion. Since “Tennis for Two” by William Higginbotham in 1958 and Stephen Russel’s “Spacewar!” in 1961, the field of digital games has shown a remarkable drive for innovation, combined with great market potential.
Structuring proposals attempt to counteract the unmanageability of the overall offer. In 1967, the French sociologist Roger Caillois presented a categorization with the basic types of competition (agon), chance/randomness (alea), disguise (mimikry) and physical experience of noise (ilnix). They serve as a foil to make us aware of central expressions of the play experience. The types mentioned rank respectively between the poles of pleasure (paida) and skill or overcoming obstacles (ludus).
Games have received little attention in the history of design
Design — understood as conception, shape and color, choice of materials as well as image and movement design — represents a significant factor in the development of games and toys. One thinks, for example, of the so-called Bauhaus chess, Renate Müller’s designs for the Volkseigener Betrieb Therapeutisches Spielzeug in Sonneberg, the plywood elephant by Charles and Ray Eames, Nintendo’s Super Mario or Barbie. Against this background, it is surprising that the history of design has so far only selectively dealt with games, their contexts and objects. After all, design has in many cases achieved groundbreaking innovations in the games market: in the conception, the reflection of social and technical contexts, the adaptation to different cognitive and physical abilities, the formal nature, with regard to the designed narratives and the use of technology.