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The history of video games may be relatively short but the impact of the culture of electronic gaming systems is undeniably influential in society today. It is important to first be able to describe the timeline, analyze it and finally evaluate the timeline as a whole. This is what I will do with a timeline I chose.
LETS BREAK IT DOWN
My timeline was published by Education Database Online in 2009 and can be found on their website. The database itself was created to educate prospective college students about educational opportunities. This specific timeline is used by students pursuing video game development programs. The graphic, titled "Video Game Timeline", sheds some light on the history of the medium and how it has evolved since 1967. The layout is simple but effective. It is spread out on a white background and progresses from left to right. The scene is set with a short sentence at the beginning of the graphic under the title. It reads, "As the world of video games continues to evolve, we take a look back at popular consoles and video games that helped make Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft the giants they are today." There is a vertical multicolored line that leads from the title and sentence down to the wide horizontal line that changes colors as the time progresses. It breaks time into large chunks labeled as "Generations" and each generation has highlighted milestones labeled by the year it happened. Font colors and styles are chosen carefully. The year is a bold, vintage style and is either red or black. The red dates represent a milestone in consoles while the red dates represent a notable release of a game. Under the year, in smaller black text reads a brief description of what happened that year. Alongside the description is a picture of either a console or a character from one of the games that was released at that time. The timeline starts in 1967 and ends in 2009.
THE ANALYTICAL TABLE OF ELEMENTS
The timeline is simple, yet extremely effective. Analyzing this graphic, I found that the elements and principles of design are key to get information across to the viewer. Color is what first drew my attention. The main horizontal line changes bold colors as it goes across. Each generation is divided into these separate colors, they are not just simple hues but go in order from mint green, pea green, dark yellow, bright red, chocolate brown, orange and black. Although these colors have no direct association with a moment in time, they do add interest and make the timeline appear more graphic
than a standard timeline. Color is also used in the pictures to represent each system or character. The colors used in the pictures are true to how the video game enthusiast would recall. They are simple photographs of the real thing. For viewers that lived through the time periods that the systems existed, they might have an emotional connection to the memories of these graphics. As Scott McCloud recounts in his book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, “The idea that a picture can evoke an emotional or sensual response in the viewer is vital to the art of comics.” This is also true with the association of video game systems and characters with the viewer. Colors, shapes and values define the video game so it is important that the viewer can relate to the content to stay engaged. Video games have used color effectively so it is fitting that the timeline also uses color to communicate. Space is laid out from a defined beginning in 1967 to an undefined end symbolized by the horizontal line going off of the graphic. The way the line falls off the edge is important to show that although there was a defined start to video games, there is no end in sight for the industry. Between moments in the timeline, the viewer's mind fills in the blanks creating the closure effect. The viewer does not necessarily know what happened between years but a clear advancement is made. This spatial relation is also symbolic of chronological order and is essential to an effective graphic. Space also varies vertically to conserve space and add interest to the graphic. Pictures and descriptions are stacked on top of one another but are linked to the main horizontal line with a thin vertical line to avoid confusion. This provides interesting space and reducing negative space keeps the eye moving. Movement also comes into play with timelines such as this. Most importantly moving the eye from left to right in a chronological order. Movement is used in art to activate the viewer's eye and move it around, stopping at each moment before moving onto the next. Timelines also use this concept to activate the subject and add a rhythm to the graphic. Rhythm carries us in a unified manner from subject to subject and description to description. Creating a unified concept and idea gives the viewer a clear message. Unity is created through the style of the horizontal line, it is continuous and is the same thickness from end to end. All of the font styles and colors are cohesive and represent their respective idea. Simple things that the viewer would never think of keep concepts separate and unify the graphic as a whole. It must stand as a single piece while emphasizing specific points. The emphasis of the design of this timeline jumps around depending on what time you look at. Each bit of information is emphasized to bring the viewer's eye and mind to that point in time. This model uses elements and principles effectively to convey the history of video games. It combines recognizable themes and icons with hard facts and dates that make it useful to the viewer. I believe the main goal of this piece is to inform the viewer about an
entertainment medium. We do not often think about how each step drove the industry to be what it is today and what it will become in the future. I think it takes a step back from the video game culture and looks at it through a clear, thorough lens while still retaining the visual elements that gamers will appreciate. It uses stereotypical representations because they are an effective source of visual material. Gamers will begin to associate with the characters in the timeline and remember their relationship to the story and subject matter. We can look at these visual elements to analyze but is it really a good timeline?
HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?
As a recreational gamer myself, I can relate to a lot of these systems and characters in the timeline. However, it does appear fairly boring overall. This style of timeline, with a defined horizontal axis, is the standard for a timeline.
It is familiar and is an easy way to communicate time. However, being that the timeline was intended to be viewed by prospective video game development students, I feel that it could have been way more design-oriented. Incorporating video elements or an interactive aspect would have really made this timeline pop and fit the video game culture. Also, using a different background than plain white may have added some interest to the timeline. The creator must be careful with the background because it can get crowded and overwhelming quickly. The information presented is thoughtful and marks a specific moment in digital cultural history. Each statement is an integral part and the viewer can fill in the gaps quite easily.
The descriptions also feature enough background information to not exclude people who aren't video game enthusiasts. This timeline functions well but could be spiced up a bit for viewers that focus on thoughtful design.
LET’S WRAP THIS UP
Through describing the visual elements of the timeline, analyzing it and evaluating the timeline as a whole, the reader can see what works and what does not.
Although this horizontal axis, bare-bones facts, simple layout timeline is effective, there are a few design elements that would have really made this graphic pop. The history of video games has evolved immensely since 1967 but the future of the industry will truly be an eventful timeline in the making.
Dave Sauvageau VCL 357 January 2013 Zufelt
Education Database Online, "A Video Game Timeline (1967-Present)." Last modified 2009. Accessed January 30, 2013.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1993.
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