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With digitalculturebooks, the University of Michigan Press publishes innovative work in new media studies and digital humanities. We began in 2006 as a partnership between MLibrary and the Press, taking advantage of the skills and expertise of staff throughout Michigan Publishing. Our primary goal is to be an incubator for new publishing models in the humanities and social sciences.


Geometries of Play
Judd Ethan Ruggill and Ken S. McAllister
Enumerates and analyzes Tempest’s landmark qualities—from aesthetics and development to its impact on video game history and culture


Atari’s 1981 arcade hit Tempest was a “tube shooter” built around glowing, vector-based geometric shapes. Among its many important contributions to both game and cultural history, Tempest was one of the first commercial titles to allow players to choose the game’s initial play difficulty (a system Atari dubbed “SkillStep”), a feature that has since became standard for games of all types. Tempest was also one of the most aesthetically impactful games of the twentieth century, lending its crisp, vector aesthetic to many subsequent movies, television shows, and video games. In this book, Ruggill and McAllister enumerate and analyze Tempest’s landmark qualities, exploring the game’s aesthetics, development context, and connections to and impact on video game history and culture. By describing the game in technical, historical, and ludic detail, they unpack the game’s latent and manifest audio-visual iconography and the ideological meanings this iconography evokes.

“Searching for the landmarks of video games Tempest may not be the first game coming to your mind—but after reading this book you’ll understand why this game is surprisingly significant in its deployments and evocations. Performing a real close reading of the game, Ruggill and McAllister’s book is not only an aesthetical and textual analysis of Tempest (and its rich and powerful influence) but also an important guide to understanding the industrial and cultural history of the earliest video games.”
—Rolf Nohr, HBK Braunschweig

“Ruggill and McAllister have dived into Tempest and emerged from the vortext with a concise analysis that puts this game in historical context and deepens its complicated legacy as a design model and cultural icon.”
—Henry Lowood, Stanford University

“In Tempest Ruggill and McAllister provide a monumental schematic for the historical analysis of digital games. Drawing upon cultural, social, and geo-political circumstances, the authors illustrate Tempest’s historicity: its design, production, and consumption as inextricably enmeshed within the peculiarities of 1980s America, the reverberations of which are still palpable in today’s market. Written in an eloquent, at times poetic style, Tempest sets the bar for future scholarship on landmark games.”
—Steven Conway, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia

Judd Ethan Ruggill is Associate Professor of Communication at Arizona State University and co-directs the Learning Games Initiative with Ken McAllister.

Ken S. McAllister is Professor of English and Associate Dean of Innovation and Research at the University of Arizona.

Praise / Awards

  • "[Tempest is] a welcome contribution to the growing—but not growing fast enough—literature on video game studies.  Providing a focused, lucid analysis of the 1981 Atari arcade game Tempest, this is the kind of book much needed in the wider field of popular culture studies."
  • "An essential book for anyone interested in Tempest and a useful contribution to the underdeveloped history of video games prior to the Nintendo Entertainment System era."
    --American Journal of Play

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 168pp.
  • 6 Figures, 15 Halftones.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07269-9

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  • $64.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05269-1

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  • $29.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90010-7

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  • Arcade game, Atari, tube shooter, video game