Intellivision: 40 Years Later

by | Feb 9, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

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Released by Mattel Electronics in 1979 (yes, that Mattel! As in Barbie, Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price, et al.), the Intellivison is a historic home video game console whose name comes from the merging of “intelligent” and “television”. Its development began in 1977, the same year the Atari 2600–it’s main competitor–was introduced. Word first broke in Spring 2018 that a reboot console was in the works.

UCI professors, Tom Boellstorff (Department of Anthropology) and Braxton Soderman (Department of Film and Media Studies), are keenly interested in a retrospective look at the Intellivision, a historic innovation in home entertainment and ancestor of modern gaming. From their flyer for last week’s colloquium:

“We are writing a book on Intellivision, provisionally entitled Intelligent Visions: The Intellivision System, Video Games, and Society. Intellivision, developed by Mattel Electronics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is one of the most important but understudied home video game systems. In this informal talk, we will present this project, very much in progress, and introduce some key working concepts under development, including productive constraint, systems theory, and transplatform. We will explore our multidimensional approach to Intellivision as social history, computational infrastructure, design platform, and gaming space. Finally, we will discuss how Intellivision provides a crucial [alternative] history to Artificial Intelligence (AI), with consequences for anthropology and [science and technology studies].”

One focus of their academic inquiry involves inviting contemporary gamers from the UCI Esports family to play-test the console and see what feedback and observations they have to offer from a modern perspective. While hardware and software have grown by leaps and bounds in forty years, some basic fundamentals may still exist beneath the surface, waiting for sharp eyes and keen minds to perceive connections across the decades of time.

UCI students, staff, and members of the public alike are also welcome to come by the Arena during business hours–simply ask to play it for free in our Community Corner! (Pro tip: if one might typically jump straight into video games, it is highly recommended to read the instruction booklet in the game boxes if you want a smoother ride. **Tutorials did not exist in video games in the 1970s**.  But, if puzzling out how to play a game sounds like a fun game within a game, enjoy the game-ception!)

As the old TV shows would say, don’t touch that dial! Stay tuned for more. This announcement article is the first in ongoing coverage about this research project.

If you seek the Intellivison, quest into yon Community Corner and find the small screen CRT monitor beneath the LoL poster!