cover image Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master: Pong, Atari, and the Dawn of the Video Game

Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master: Pong, Atari, and the Dawn of the Video Game

David Kushner and Koren Shadmi. Bold Type, $16.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-56858-876-6

Kushner and Shadmi (Rise of the Dungeon Master) reunite for this boiled-down explainer of feuding entrepreneurs Ralph Baer and Nolan Bushnell, who both claimed to be “the father of video games.” Plot-stopping wrap-arounds portray the pair’s duels as if they are game characters, battling over table tennis in an arena. Flashback sequences fill out the context of the industry’s history, early arcade and home gaming systems, and the pioneering Pong. Bushnell cofounded Atari in 1972, within the advent of casual, California-style business culture that later characterized companies like Apple and Amazon. Baer, a Jewish immigrant from Nazi-era Germany, focused on efficiency and usability in his inventions (including the prototype that became the Magnavox Odyssey). He was inspired to make the increasingly popular television more than a passive device, wondering “What if you could also play games on it?” The fast-moving narrative hits high points of inspiration and invention vs. marketing—and not a small amount of industrial plagiarism of ideas and devices. Shadmi’s cartooning is uncluttered and clean. Those looking for a more serious history or comprehensive study won’t find it here, but a playful treatment can be just what comics (and video game) fans like best. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick & Williams (for Kushner) and Robert Mecoy, Creative Book Services (for Shadmi). (Sept.)