Nolan Bushnell: Games Today Have ‘Gratuitous Complexity’



By Gina Gotthlif, Mashable

Nolan Bushnell is often referred to as the father of electronic gaming — he created Atari, after all — but the serial entrepreneur has brought joy to the lives of many, beyond geeks. After founding Chuck E. Cheese’s, the entertainment restaurant chain, Bushnell founded and advised an impressive number of tech companies.

Mashable recently caught up with Nolan (as he prefers to be called), and he shared some of his experience and thoughts on entrepreneurship.

Mashable: Nolan, your notorious creation — Atari — took place decades ago in 1972. What are some of your best memories of that time?

The newness of it all. I really didn’t know what I was doing and I was making it up every day… it was challenging. Being on the steep part of the learning curve, I think, is as fun as the world gets. I’m still on the steep part of the learning curve today. Maybe someday I’ll figure out what I want to be when I grow up, but I might just be a constant beginner. It turns out that if you’re a constant beginner, it’s the very best thing you can do for your brain. Being uncomfortable and trying to figure things out is when neurogenesis happens.

Atari has continued to be hip throughout decades — it’s cool to be retro. Is this a reaction to our current technology or merely nostalgia?

There are two things going on. The first is nostalgia, of course. 

But what is really happening now is many games have gratuitous complexity. Technology didn’t allow this in those days… and the essence of gameplay in many instances is simply no ambiguity.

If you ever play chess, you play with black and white pieces that are the same as they were in the 1680s. The Atari games were very well-tuned for timing… it was sort of essential gameplay — gameplay with essence. And that’s attractive in its own right.

The million-dollar question: What’s your advice for young entrepreneurs?

My advice is to always make sure that you are really willing to put in your dues. And I don’t mean going to school for training yourself — you can learn so quickly by being out there, going to conferences, listening to a TED talk every night.

The tools available — Kickstarter, crowd-funding — and the fact that you can produce a video game that used to take years all by yourself in your little garage… all of a sudden the barriers are much lower so people do not have to go depend on getting millions from venture capital. They can decide to do it and just do it.

You spoke at big tech events in both Brazil and Mexico recently. What have you noticed in terms of the digital space in Latin America in comparison to the U.S.?

I think there’s a growing awareness, and that these countries are starting to realize that to even maintain a second-world economy, the digital divide has to be narrowed in a very significant way.

A lot is happening in the sphere of education, but at the same time change is very slow. How do you think technology can revolutionize education, and what is it that you are trying to accomplish?

The main thing with education is just do it bigger, faster, better. How can we teach kids more stuff in a shorter amount of time and with less money? One of the things people are doing, which I think is a false path is what I call “teacher in a box,” take a lecture and put it on the net.

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