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December 2017
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Playing with Money (2): Space Trading

Over on ihobo today, part two of the serial looking at shops in videogames, this time looking at the 1984 classic Elite, and its relationship with tabletop role-playing games. Here’s an extract:

These two sci-fi games, Traveller and Space Opera, were to go on to inspire one of the most influential videogames of all time: 1984’s Elite, created by Cambridge University students David Braben and Ian Bell. A space trading game, its play consisted primarily of buying goods at one space station, and flying them to another station while enduring pirate attacks en route. It offered the player tremendous freedom of choice within its world, supporting everything from asteroid mining to bounty hunting with little more than a tight and flexible design – a design that descends directly from the early science fiction tabletop RPGs. This connection is frequently overlooked, most likely because of the tendency to ignore the relationship between early videogames and the tabletop games that lead to them…

You can read the entirety of Playing with Money (2): Space Trading over at

Playing with Money (1): The Adventurer Shop

Over on ihobo today, the first of a short serial looking at the game design lineages of money and shops – or rather, looking at what this research method reveals about shopping in videogames. Here’s an extract:

The two key lineages in the early days of videogames are the arcade games and the descendants of TSR’s hugely influential Dungeons & Dragons. The player practices of the arcade, however, being based around fast-paced play that ended suddenly to encourage further coin drops, rarely involved shopping – although Atari’s 1986 top-down racer Super Sprint is a notable exception. Tracing the lineages of money and shops in games always suffers from the general problem that the imaginative practices of money are something we are all embedded within every day, and thus game shops could appear anywhere, in any kind of game, with no clear influence of a preceding game. Nonetheless, even with game money and shops, the conservation of player practices remains the norm, even if our everyday money is not considered a game (which could certainly be argued).

You can read the entirety of Playing with Money (1): The Adventurer Shop, over at

Game Design Lineages

Over on ihobo today, a brief summary of what I mean by ‘game design lineages’, and how I got to here from my earlier research. Here’s an extract:

The game design lineages method is the most viable historical research tool I’ve yet encountered for examining games and videogames, although it is only a part of the wider research project into player practices that I have been pursuing for much of the last decade. It began with Imaginary Games, applying Walton’s concept of props that prescribe certain imaginings to games, and then asking about the key props for videogames – such as inventories, maps, and save games, all of which condition the play of videogames in highly significant ways. This also brought out how videogames were dominated by two particular props – guns and goals – leading me to suggest (back in 2011) that authentic artistic innovation in these media would have to subvert the player practices surrounding these props, as Dear Esther, Proteus, and everything by Tale of Tales does to great effect.

You can read the entirety of Game Design Lineages over at

Coming This Spring...

GuardianWelcome back to Only a Game, the musings and nonsense of game designer, philosopher, and author Chris Bateman! I am busily weaving my magic behind the scenes, preparing for a host of new blog pieces exploring historical game lineages, cybervirtue, and more besides, not to mention gearing up for the promotional tour for The Virtuous Cyborg, which is coming out this March. Some things to look for…

  • Virtuous Cyborg Endorsements: The endorsements for The Virtuous Cyborg are in, and can be read over at the landing page at Check it out! My thanks to Jane McGonigal, Justin Robertson, Michaël Samyn, and Babette Babich for their kind words about the new book.
  • UK Speaking Tour: I will be touring the UK and further afield to promote the book in March, April, and May, culminating at some point in a big event in London to coincide with Justin Robertson’s new art exhibition (more on this soon!). If you would like me as a visiting speaker, please get in touch using the contact link at, or any of the usual methods.
  • Player Practices Research: My player practices research project continues to gather steam, and I will be engaging in some more work on game design lineages this Spring prior to the book coming out. Expect something to appear in the next week or so to set the scene for this.
  • History of Videogame Shops: I am working on tracing the game design lineages of videogame shops and money – I would be grateful for any input anyone has concerning early examples of stock trading games like the 1940s SHOC (which I used to own…), games influenced by trading in 1984’s Elite, the origins of the round shop in 1999’s Counter-Strike, or any other significant development in videogame shops and money.
  • Lineages of Zelda: Have started another game of The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild on the Switch, having already played it on the Wii U, and am getting dangerously close to writing about it. There may be a Lineages of Zelda serial this Spring if this all works out!

See y’all in the corners of the internet!