cover image 8-Bit Apocalypse: The Untold Story of Atari’s Missile Command

8-Bit Apocalypse: The Untold Story of Atari’s Missile Command

Alex Rubens. Overlook, $26.95 (256) ISBN 978-1-4683-1644-5

Rubens, a strategic partner manager at Google, delves deeply into the story of Atari’s 1980 arcade game Missile Command, the origins of which have long been shrouded in mystery despite the games seminal role in a fledgling industry. By convincing the game’s elusive creator, David Theurer, to tell his story, Rubens illuminates the company’s founding and the inception of arcades as a part of American popular culture. The author outlines Atari’s early history—the creation of Pong in 1972, its early leadership struggles, and its 1981 height of $2 billion in profits before the 1982 industry crash that ruined the company—as well as the cutthroat world of modern-day Missile Command tournaments. At the center is Theurer’s obsessive development of the game into a vehicle for his own political concerns: the final product climaxed in a no-win-nuclear-war scenario. With this stark antiwar message, Rubens shows, Theurer became the first game developer to realize the potential for games to affect players emotionally, an accomplishment that stands as Missile Command’s true legacy. Though repetitive in conveying Theurer’s rationale, Rubens’s history is an excellent analysis of Cold War–era fears and the escapism provided by video games. It will be fascinating to anyone interested in the cultural influence of entertainment. (Oct.)