Remember when I mentioned the Atari Party when I profiled the Digital Game Museum? Well I got a chance to meet the gentleman behind the event, Bill Kendrick (ironically, when I had to make a correction). Of course I seized on the opportunity to interview him because this is a living history event – the kind of thing we geeks should do more. That’s a hint, but let’s talk to Bill to motivate you more.
1) So Bill, let’s ask – how did you get involved in running these Atari Parties?
In 2003 I discovered the Vintage Computer Festival, which took place annually in Mountain View, California. I hadn’t heard of it before then, but it was already in its 6th year. Based on the advertisement I saw (a post on Usenet!), there was going to be Apple II and Commodore 64 gear there, but Ataris didn’t seem to be represented, so I invited myself!
I ended up moving to Mountain View a year later, and brought a few Ataris to subsequent VCF events. My wife and I were due to have our first child in late 2006, so I skipped that year, and 2007. By 2008, I had moved (back) to Davis, California — about 100 miles northeast; near Sacramento — and was eagerly awaiting the next VCF. Sadly, it didn’t happen (and hasn’t happened in Mountain View again since, though numerous other VCF events have popped up around the world.)
So VCF didn’t happen, and I had the itch to set up all my Ataris. “Wii Parties” were all the rage, and I scoffed at the suggestion that 4-player games were something new or novel, since Ataris have been doing that since at least 1981 (Warlords). So I asked my friends via Facebook if they’d come to an “Atari Party.” Lots of people responded affirmatively, and my 860 sq. foot rental no longer seemed the appropriate venue, so I decided to throw it at the local public library. (I help run the local Linux user group, which meets there monthly, so I had familiarity and connections.)
It took a little convincing to get the librarians to allow it, but I held it after hours (6pm-9pm on a Saturday), and promised to make it educational. I even convinced a few people to come in as guest speakers.
So long story short, I brought this upon myself. 🙂
2) What goes into running them – because it sounds like an excessive effort.
I really try to keep them as simple as possible. When I have extra time and resources, I “add features”, so to speak. My focus is on running it for the layperson — the adults who grew up with Atari as a kid who shows up for some nostaliga, and the kids of today who love games (just like we did back when Atari was synonymous with video games). I don’t run it as a hard-core retro-gamer event, or a show full of vendors & collectors. There are plenty of ‘big’ shows that have those bases covered.
At a bare minimum, my goal is to have video game systems & computers set up and running games for people to come in and play. If that’s all I get, then it’s a success. A few ‘cherry on top’ things I’ve been able to do at different shows include: guest speakers, give-away prizes, movie screenings (1982’s original “TRON” was very popular), informational exhibits (I took apart and labeled the innards of a broken Atari 800 computer, and have brought in collections of classic (and modern “retro gaming”) magazines and books), and food.
3) Having attended one, I was impressed with just how much was there – what kind of people collect these machines and how do you get them to come?
I have a few friends who have Atari gear who I invite, but for the most part, the people who have come to help run Atari Parties are people I had never met before — folks who learned about it (or attended a past event) and decided they wanted to help out. Once the ball gets rolling, people seem to come out of the woodwork. There are no “Atari computer clubs” around here these days, so this has turned out to be a way for us to find each other.
4) What kind of people attend these events – because when I went I was impressed with the diversity.
Yes, it’s always been a diverse crowd. Little kids (and their parents), adults who remember Atari from their childhood (and their kids), and the occasional ex-Atari employee who comes to revel in the fact that people are still enjoying their creations — it’s a lot of fun when you bump into those folks and get to chatting! A room full of noisy video games (especially in contrast to the rest of the library) definitely draws attention, too.
5) How many of these do you do a year – and how can people invite you, get involved, or host their own?
I only do them once a year, at most. However… our second child was due in early 2012, so my plan was to skip that year. Somehow I ended up doing four! In late 2011 and early 2012, I did three one-man shows for some local libraries — they invited me to come do “Retro Gaming for Teen” events, as they called them. I brought a variety of Ataris and other old systems I own. One or two dozen kids showed up to each of those events.
Then, the Digital Game Museum (who helped me immensely with this year’s event) wanted to hold their own “Atari Party” in mid-2012, and asked if I could help them with it. I loaned my gear, helped find some more volunteers to bring even more gear, and helped set things up and tend the machines, but everything else — finding a venue, gettng guest speakers, advertising, coordinating, and of course a bunch of set-up, hosting, and tear-down — was done by DGM.
6) Video Game history is important to us as a culture, as geeks. What are other ways we can preserve it and keep it alive?
I think keeping the spark and the excitement of classic games is important. If no one cared, and no one came, no one would bother running shows like this.
So I say: share the joy of classic video games with your friends, on Facebook and in real life. Dig out your old 2600 and throw an Atari Party at home! Or start up a local event, like I did! Just remember that you can “keep it simple”. Try to do it at no cost to yourself, or attendees, if at all possible. (Remember your local library!)
7) What are the best books (in your opinion) on video game history?
I’m the worst person to ask this, since I’ve never been a big reader. However, I highly recommend Ian Bogost’s “Racing the Beam”, which provides amazing insight into the kind of technical feats that were required to get the wide array of games that the Atari VCS/2600 ended up with. I suppose that’s not focused too on history, though. I’ve been (very slowly) digging into Curt Vendel & Marty Goldberg’s “Atari Inc.: Business is Fun”, which focuses on the early years (1972’s founding of Atari through Warner’s sale and split up in 1984). It’s a tome, and I really enjoy learning about the personalities that formed the Atari I grew up with as a kid.
8) With all your experience do you write books, give speeches and otherwise pass on knowledge beyond the Atari Parties?
No, sadly I don’t have time; nor do I have any particular insight that isn’t already covered tenfold by the smart people out there who ARE writing books and giving talks. 🙂
Thanks Bill! Keep up the good work!
Also you can catch an interview with bill here.
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.