Landscape (Atari Battlezone, 1980)
Single channel video, emulator software
When you play a video game, there are days when you’re playing the game and it’s fightin’ you. Then there are days when you and the game become one… you’re fluid, you’re focused, you’re in the game, you’re right there with it, and everything is right, there’s nothing that’s wrong, and you can’t even hear anything that’s outside your realm, there’s nothing.
– Joel West, Atari Battlezone Champion, from Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade, dir. Lincoln Ruchti, 2007
The 1980s teenager standing at the arcade console forms just one part of a reflexive feedback system, attempting to survive on a few quarters as possible by targeting and destroying as many vectored-polygonal tanks as possible. Atari’s Battlezone is the first attempt at a 3D, vector graphic gaming system, and became a popular arcade console in early 1980s video game tournaments. The vector scenery moves, and he does not. In Landscape, we are not in control of the first-person shooter, but can only watch as the scenery scrolls across the small rectangular viewfinder. Emulation software might provide us the ability to play arcade console games, but it also fundamentally changes gameplay. The removal of Battlezone from the public arena to the privacy of the home computer, and then again transferred to a digitally projected loop reflects an entrapment of the viewer. We are implicated in the reflexive loop introduced by the arcade, but remain bystanders as the emulator’s CPU directs the tank around the battle field, creating its angular, “mountainous” horizon as it scans a repetitive landscape of regular polygons. In the three decades since this game was introduced, how has the first-person shooter changed, or has the video game industry also remained trapped in a repetitive cycle of simplistic seek-and-destroy?