This is the first post related to my current research project on Indonesian videogames history (Disclaimer: thoughts are still scattered and disjointed):

As Inaya Rakhmani and Hikmat Darmawan (2015: 250) assert in their chapter about videogames culture in Indonesia, the exact history of videogames in the country is difficult to trace due to a variety of reasons. Archival awareness was not, and perhaps still not, high among Indonesians, especially for things considered trivial such as videogames. There aren’t really any exact record of what videogame titles first introduced to the country, or when. Statistical data on gaming is almost nonexistent, particularly during the early years. So, most narratives about Indonesian videogames history depend on the memories of people who participated or are still participating in the culture, i.e. gamers. Based on this collective memory, Rakhmani and Darmawan suggest that the development of videogames in Indonesia can be traced as far back as the mid-1980s.

While I cherish Rakhmani and Darmawan’s oral history/interview approach, I am interested in examining the scarcity of record about Indonesian videogames history, specially by means of popular distribution. My goal is not to provide the ultimate history of Indonesian videogames (that would be a rather foolish and impossible task), but to offer glimpses of what videogames discourse looked like (if there was such a thing) back in the early days. I think by doing this type of research, it will enrich our understanding of contemporary videogames culture in the country.

So, the first thing I did is to look for popular periodicals that were around during the estimated period that Rakhmani and Darmawan suggest. In this case, I examined two periodicals, Intisari and Variasi Putra Indonesia, from late 70s to late 80s. These two periodicals are by no means the representation of Indonesian popular culture back then. They are just ones among many, and they are, in this case, accessible to me.

Perusing these two periodicals, the first thing that I stumbled upon is this Graffiti jeans ad:

Graffiti Jeans Ad, Variasi Putra Indonesia, No. 397 (24-30 July 1981)


Graffiti Jeans Ad, Intisari, No. 217 (August 1981)

The ads show three hip-looking youths (by 80s fashion standard), posing next to what looks like a coin-op pinball machine. I am intrigued by the fashion and the machine. Well, mostly the machine.

The machine maybe just a prop for the ad. Yet, associating the aura of “hipness” that the ad promotes, the pinball machine may also suggest that it was part of a trendy youth culture back then. This may not be surprising if we connect it to the history of videogames in the US, especially coin-operated arcade. Coin-operated machines were already part of popular culture dating back to the Victorian-era amusements like the Kinetoscope.

However, 1981 was the heyday of videogame arcades in the US. As Carly A. Kocurek (2015) points out, “[b]y the early 1980s, mainstream media outlets from Life magazine to the New York Times were reporting on the youth trend, and arcades had become mainstays in shopping malls, strip malls, and small-town storefronts across the Unites States” (2). If we were to align the youth trend in the US with that in Indonesia, then the more appropriate background prop for the Graffiti ad would be a Space Invaders (Taito, 1978) arcade machine, or perhaps Sea Wolf (Midway, 1976). But what we see here is a much older coin-op machine (by the US standard).

Then perhaps videogame arcades were not yet popular in Indonesia back then (I rather doubt it). Perhaps arcades were still a novelty for upper-middle class youth as Rakhmani and Darmawan suggest. Yet, if they were a novelty, where did they play them? At home? (I also doubt it)

It is also interesting to note that this ad was the only non-game ad that used game-related background (at least in the two periodicals). And the appearance of this ad is very rare. From 1979 to 1990, it only showed up twice in Variasi Putra and once in Intisari (there are of course other Graffiti Jeans ads, but they did not use the pinball machine as a background prop anymore).


Works Cited:

Kocurek, Carly A. Coin-Operated Americans (Univ. Minnesota Press, 2015)

Rakhmani, Inaya and Hikmat Darmawan. “Indonesia.” In Mark J. P. Wolf (Ed.). Video Games Around the World (The MIT Press, 2015)