Fayerweather Hall (Room 513), Columbia University, 1180 Amsterdam Avenue, New York
Speaker:Laine Nooney, Assistant Professor of Media and Information Industries, New York University
In the fall of 1980, the remote, rural Gold-Rush town of Oakhurst, California became home to Sierra On-Line, a computer game manufacturer that emerged as one of the most successful and iconic game companies of the 1980s and 90s. Thirty-seven years later, Sierra On-Line is long gone, but its operational and labor infrastructure remain strangely present—a civic palimpsest composed of repurposed buildings, regional archives, local memorials and the fraying memory of its citizens. If our cultural imaginary of the game industry is built of glowing screens, blinking lights and virtual worlds with no earthly referent, then Oakhurst offers something quiet ulterior: an impression of history in which video games are something best forgotten. Taking Oakhurst seriously as a site of game history, this talk explores the undocumented dimensions of the game industry’s supply chain during the final decades of the 20th century, focusing on the emotional labor and maintenance work involved in sales, customer service and technical support. Unfolding in three scenes—each pinned to a financial crash, each oriented to the experience of a female employee—this talk will account for the material and affective networks that made gaming possible and computers thinkable as machines of everyday life.
Laine Nooney is an Assistant Professor of Media and Information Industries in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. She carries a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies and a Graduate Certification in Women’s and Gender Studies from Stony Brook University, an MA in Cultural Studies from Kansas State University, and a BFA in Graphic Design from the University of Dayton. Nooney is a media scholar and historian of video games and personal computing. Her current book project is a labor and industry history of the American computer game industry, told through a case study of the home entertainment software producer Sierra On-Line (1980-2008). Nooney’s work has been published in Game Studies, American Journal of Play, Journal of Visual Culture and The Atlantic. She is a founding editor of the forthcoming ROMchip: A Journal of Game Histories and serves on the Executive Committee of the Special Interest Group for Computing, Information and Society.