Being a video game historian, I consider myself fairly well-versed in the early career of Nolan Bushnell, the man who created the first arcade video game, and then founded Atari and the video game industry with PONG. He ran Atari as part high-tech games company, part R&D technological think-tank and what might seem like part college fraternity… at least in the context of the usually staid business community. Atari was pretty much the template for the Silicon Valley start-up that tried to create a fun company “culture”, with hot-tubs on premises and giant beer keggers held in the parking lot, to encourage employees to forfeit a home-life and pour themselves into their work at all hours of the night and day.
But when the Game Developers Conference, the most storied of associations dedicated to the industry of video game creation, moved to honor Bushnell with their Pioneer award in 2018 for, you know, creating the entire industry, there was a backlash from feminists.
Most of this took place in the form of recollections from former male employees collected in various tomes about the history of video games, highlighting actions such as trying to goad a woman into a hot-tub during a “board meeting”, or the code-naming of various gaming systems with the names of various women around the office considered “good-looking”.
The GDC quickly rescinded its award to Bushnell in the face of this backlash. And in the wake of that, many actual women who had found a place to work in the technological industry at Atari came forward to voice their dismay at the disparagement of the man who gave them their start.
The following Facebook post comes from Loni Reeder, who worked at Atari in communications at corporate HQ from 1977 – 1979, dealing with every facet of the company. She is referencing Brianna Wu in her letter, one of the voices in the “GamerGate” movement attempting to highlight the lack of female diversity in game creation or within the games themselves:
“It started with a 38 year old disgruntled ‘uber feminist’ woman/game designer from Massachusetts running for Congress who had a less than stellar experience in the predominantly male-dominated video game space, resulting in what came to be known as ‘GamerGate.’
Using the ‘MeToo’ movement and a moment in time for which she had no firsthand knowledge…………
And with zero complaints lodged against Nolan or complaints about the work culture by employees working at Atari during that time………
And based on archival newspaper and magazine interviews with Nolan and others chatting about a work environment, time and culture that existed 40 years ago………
A work environment everyone – men and women – happily worked in TOGETHER… and partied in TOGETHER (or didn’t party in – there was no pressure and no judgement)…. an environment that has resulted in decades-long friendships, marriages, ‘little Atarians,’ business partnerships and frequent reunions……… providing us with amazing memories, and for most of us, spending the rest of our work careers attempting to replicate the MAGIC of the Camelot that we were lucky enough to work at.
By arming herself with a topical movement and being personally disgruntled and ‘offended’ by an environment existing 40 years ago which she played no part in – an environment she had ZERO first hand knowledge of………. and ‘intimating’ those of us who worked with or around Nolan, Al (Alcorn), the Gene’s (Lipkin and Landrum), Joe (Keenan), Steve (Bristow) and the rest of ‘Mahogany Row’ had been sexually assaulted, abused and disrespected by (in her estimation) abominations to the male species……
Yes, based on her political aspirations, personal assumptions and libellous accusations against a man where no complaints have been raised or filed – she made a big, unfounded noise against Nolan – and the ‘Pioneer Award’ honor was withdrawn.
Atari was a large corporation with many facilities… but I worked in Corporate Headquarters, interfaced with every department in the company as a part of Communications, Security and Facilities groups……. and in being ‘adopted’ by the Coin-op and Industrial Design groups, I also spent a great deal of time in the Engineering (‘hot tub’) building, which would be the two locations where most of the fun and craziness occurred.
From my vantage point and having a first-person perspective of this time and the Atari environment, what has been done to Nolan is falsely mischaracterizing him for a lifestyle that did no harm or wrong to anyone.
Nolan created a company environment which opened the doors to many women into a field where they were never included before: HI TECH. Nolan never discriminated on any level and gave everyone a chance to prove on their own merits that they could be a part of Atari. From soldering boards to building arcade cabinets, drawing schematics and artwork to working on the assembly line.
For me personally, Nolan was the final word in my being hired at Atari – my first full-time job after college… he continued his belief in me years later, when we cofounded uWink in Los Angeles where I became an ‘equally compensated’ Vice President.
Nolan never profiled a person by their gender as to whether or not they were a fit for the job. He based his decision on the person’s skill, ability and passion for the job – because of that belief, we always rose to the occasion! We were a bonded teamship… AND A FAMILY.
Atari also saw a woman – the amazing Carol Shaw – go on to fame!
For me, and I’m sure for other women who will weigh in……. while this ‘feminazi congresswoman wanna-be’ may believe she is doing ‘Atari womankind’ a favor, in reality, she has done us a disservice by creating victims where there were none.
Personally, I am extremely angered by her words and conduct in this matter… not just for Nolan, but for the women of Atari – all of us!
We ALL were, and remain to this day extremely strong and intelligent women…… and there isn’t any ‘man’ who would dare take advantage of us (not if they intended to procreate in the future!).
My other anger is the callous and unnecessary hurt I’m sure this matter has inflicted on Nancy and their kids and grandkids.
Finally… by not doing their due diligence before terminating the honor, the GDC did a disservice to Nolan, to my fellow Atarians – and to the truth.
Nolan was extremely gracious in this matter via his tweet… Hopefully the GDC will right this misstep on their part at some point in the future.”
Submitted by William Hunter thedoteaters.com
Image uploaded by CGR Publishing. Image content owned by Atari Corporation.