I made yet another impulse buy on Ebay, this time for the hand-held, pong-like game Blip. It billed itself as a portable, TV independent, and digital game. Two out of three ain’t bad. There is nothing digital about Blip, and I am fascinated by this because the aspiration to the digital label represents a broader shift in the mid-1970s when this game came out. Atari’s home version of Pong, which was TV dependent, was an obvious influence from 1975. Although it should be noted Pong was actually digital. Blip, on the other hand, was entirely electro-mechanical, with a rotating LED. Atari 2600 was released in 1977, the same year as Blip. The cache of being digital, even though few people understood fully what that term meant, must have been a marketing strategy.
I found this awesome video about how Blip works, as well as a superbly detailed post, by Windell Ostay on the Evil Mad Scientists blog. He breaks down the mechanics of how Blip works by opening the game up, and it’s pretty impressive.
While the gameplay is mediocre at best, the idea of this machine being touted as “the digital game” when it’s clearly analog is what’s most interesting to me. The game embodies a kind of cultural confusion around the idea of digital media in mass-produced consumer goods, and this is something the marketers are exploiting. This is particularly relevant as it relates to toys given this is the moment when Atari 2600 would introduce an entire generation of kids to the world of the digital for the first time.