Pre-Minecraft Minecraft?

As part of my doctoral research, I’m deep into about 5 years of issues of Scholastic’s Family Computing magazine, which ran from 1983-1988.  I’ve been interested not only in the content of the articles, which are helping me understand how home computers shaped and were shaped by conceptions of family time and domestic space in the 1980s, but also in the ads.  Some of these ads are real winners, a gold mine for scholars interested in video games, expressions of masculinity and femininity, and how “lay” people came to understand computer piracy and hacking.

I wanted to point out one ad here, for “Pic.Builder” software – developed by Optimum Resource, Inc. for Apple and Atari computers, and released by Weekly Reader Family Software, a division of Xerox Education Publications.

pic.builderThe copy reads, “See how creative you can be with this unique picture-building program.  You build color pictures with blocks, one block at a time – like a construction set. You can build pictures of outer space, castles, farms, trucks, and much more.  Or, you can be even more creative and invent your own pictures. The possibilities are endless.  Plus… you can save your pictures and use them!”

Sounds (and looks) a lot like Minecraft, doesn’t it?

minecraftdisney

A collective of Minecraft users built this re-creation of the castle from Disney World’s Magic Kingdom: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-04/11/minecraft-magic-kingdom

Certainly, Minecraft is distinctive from Pic.Builder in various ways: Minecraft’s relationship to user-generated content, its evolution within a network society, its unprecedented commercial success, just to name a few.  The sandbox game’s blocky 80s perpetual-beta aesthetic though, as well as the way it both collapses and reinforces the categories of “educational” and “fun learning” games, definitely had me doing a double take at this Pic.Builder ad.

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