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[Comments] (4) Das Komputermaschine Ist Nicht: I saw a German ad for the Commodore 64 and it got me thinking about how many C64s made it into East Germany. The PolyPlay was made in the mid-80s, and it was extremely popular despite the games being terrible by 1985 standards, especially compared to the C64. (You can play the PolyPlay games on MAME, or in Flash here.)

Well, in a move that can only be described as "astounding" I did some searching and found this translated essay on the topic. It's excellent. It takes you through the adolescence of an East German computer nerd, with its PolyPlays and its Robotron computers and its sections in the back of state-sponsored ham radio magazines. Once nerds got their own computers they were able to clone the PolyPlay games and distribute the clones through the mail.

Another interesting aspect is the difference between West Germany, which took a Music Man anti-pool-table approach to video games, and the East, which coopted the mania (or, I suppose, cöopted it).

Computer gaming was made a matter of the State – and computer gaming was officially labelled "Computersport", which means "computer sports" [thank you. -LR]. Connecting computer gaming to politics had a huge impact on the future development of computing in East Germany... In West Germany, in 1984 a new youth protection law prohibited gaming computers at public places. The new technologies were denounced to have a bad influence on young people, who from then had to go to bars if they wanted to play. In East Germany, the government had realised that computers were to become an important economic means in the future... Inspired by the Polyplay, or by visits at relative's places, many youths started putting together their own computers, or to program their own games.

And at the end, the essay answers my question.

Even before the borders were opened, and in spite of an import prohibition, advertisings in the Funkamateur [the aforementioned ham radio magazine -LR] offered C64 computers for 5000 East Mark, a horrendous price. But nevertheless, the commodore took over in the Berlin scene.

After that, unfortunately, "programming was less important here than cracking and copying C64 games." Thanks for the essay, Thilo Mischke and Kerstin Grosch. And Melanie Swalwell, for hosting the essay and also creating some sort of interactive oral history of video games in New Zealand.

One thing that didn't occur to me until I started writing this entry was that the people who made PolyPlay must have played a bunch of decadent Western games to figure out which ones to clone.


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