"It was thrilling. It was terrifying. I was into it." Howard Scott Warshaw opens Netflix's recent docuseries, High Score, retelling the initial fervor of the video game industry in the late 1970s. High Score follows Warshaw and dozens of other game designers who helped pioneer early gaming.
High Score has Warshaw almost immediately signal his more infamous contribution to gaming: the design of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, a game that some blame for precipitating the "video game crash of 1983"—a bust following years of high revenue and large scale game production (by then in the form of "cartridges").
"I made the worst game of all time," Warshaw says. "Some people say it was the thing that destroyed the video game industry. That wasn't what I was going for when I was designing it, by the way."
Who is Howard Scott Warshaw?
Warshaw studied computer science and was hired by video game giant Atari in 1981. At Atari, Warshaw created the bestselling games Yars' Revenge and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The latter, he said, took nine months to develop.
In 1982, Warshaw was asked to complete another Spielberg spin-off with E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
He was told the game needed a Christmas release, giving Warshaw only five weeks to design the game. "I said, 'absolutely I can,'" Warshaw recalled. "There was no hesitation and no doubt in my mind. I could do this."
Warshaw met Atari's deadline, but the game bombed upon release. Years later, in an interview with NPR, Warshaw explained the game's problem: the distinction between gamer frustration and gamer disorientation. "Video games are all about frustration. It's OK to frustrate a user. In fact, it's important to frustrate a user. But you don't want to disorient the user."
E.T. was a game that disoriented the player, creating traps that inexplicably brought the player back to the same screen.
The game was a failure for Atari and quickly signaled a bust for the industry.
Warshaw left the industry to write nonfiction books and produce documentaries. Years later, he realized what he really wanted was to become a therapist, focusing on the kind of workplace stress he once experienced.
"I have been there; I do know what it's like," he explained. "I have succeeded and I've failed and I've lost it, and I've had it and I've lost it. I've seen all this go. I can help people really understand and relate and find a way around and through it."
Warshaw is now licensed in California, calling himself a "Silicon Valley therapist."
You Might Also Like