World’s Hottest Platforms 2011

Thursday 9 June 2011, 7:49 pm   ////  

Ian Bogost and I were thinking about the Platform Studies series today, as we are wont to do. There are two books in the series that are nearing completion now, which we are delighted about, but there are many more to be written. We were talking about some platforms that we thought were large and low-hanging fruit for any interested authors – ones that would be great to write about. These are a few platforms or families of platforms that seem to us to have interesting technical aspects, diverse and important historical connections, a good amount of worthwhile cultural production, and a number of adherents:

  • Apple II
  • Commodore 64
  • Flash
  • Game Boy and/or Game Boy Advance
  • iPhone and iPad
  • Java
  • Macintosh
  • MSX
  • NES
  • PC
  • System/360
  • Unix and Linux
  • Windows (“Wintel”)

In case there’s anything that seems puzzling about this list: A platform, as far as the Platform Studies series is concerned, is something that supports programming and programs, the creation and execution of computational media. (This is pretty much what Wikipedia defines as a computing platform, too.) So BASIC, Java, and Flash are as much platforms as the mainly-hardware consoles and computers that are listed, as are the operating systems on the list.

If any of these interest you enough that you’d consider writing a book about them, please contact me and/or Ian. If you have a favorite platform that we haven’t mentioned and want to suggest that someone write about it, please leave us (and any potential authors who are reading) a comment.


  1. I guess MS-DOS should be put into that the list, that was a huge platform.

    Comment by Victor Gijsbers — 2011-06-10 @ 4:18 am
  2. The Z-Machine, obviously. I would love to read a full-length book about that. The JVM (rather than just Java). Would the Facebook or Twitter APIs count as a “platform”?

    Comment by Adam Parrish — 2011-06-10 @ 8:01 am
  3. Victor, we intended MS-DOS to part of the “PC” platform, and we agree that it’s important.

    Adam, Facebook and Twitter are indeed computational platforms as well as communication platforms. We didn’t list them simply because they aren’t very clear-cut cases when compared to these others. Much of the reason they are interesting is because they are platforms for communications rather than for the development and distribution of programs. But yes, they are platforms in our sense.

    Comment by Nick Montfort — 2011-06-10 @ 9:28 am
  4. Nick, Twitter and Facebook are indeed platforms for the development and distribution of programs as well as communication platforms. I’d welcome a PS book on either!

    Comment by Ian Bogost — 2011-06-10 @ 11:21 am
  5. The Amstrad CPC and Sinclair ZX Spectrum were historically important platforms in Europe in the early home computer days. For that matter, so was the Atari 800 in the States.

    Not sure why you list NES, but not SNES, Sega Genesis, or Playstation (1). Colecovision, too, possibly.

    I could make an argument for the Vax as being important in the pre-home computer games; seems to have attracted more interesting game efforts than either mainframes or other minis.

    Comment by Greg — 2011-06-10 @ 7:03 pm
  6. Greg, these are all good suggestions. Thanks!

    Comment by Nick Montfort — 2011-06-10 @ 7:16 pm
  7. My first computer was a TI-99/4A, which Wikipedia says had 35% of the market at its peak… It was still kind of a flop, though, so maybe not exactly “world’s hottest”.

    Also, having tried to type in many listings from the BASIC Computer Games books, I quibble with BASIC as a platform, given how different (and incompatible) were MS-BASIC, TI Extended BASIC, Atari BASIC, etc.

    On the other hand, I would say that Javascript-in-a-Web-browser is perhaps the “hottest” platform ever, though perhaps not for games (yet).

    Comment by Doug Orleans — 2011-06-10 @ 11:27 pm
  8. Doug, you’re absolutely right – notice that I mentioned “platforms or families of platforms.” BASIC is not a single platform, or a single language, but really is a family of languages/platforms that share a great deal in common while also thwarting you when you try to type in listings from a magazine.

    JavaScript + HTML5 (with canvas) is definitely a great contemporary platform, one which I program for myself.

    Comment by Nick Montfort — 2011-06-10 @ 11:30 pm
  9. SCUMM?

    Comment by Brian Moriarty — 2011-06-11 @ 2:22 pm
  10. Both Amiga and Atari 8-bit come to mind.

    Comment by Nathan — 2011-06-11 @ 6:40 pm
  11. Comparisons of platforms is a great idea. As an arts curator, you idea sent me off in a completely different direction, but one I think might be of value if you come to write this book. I immediately thought of five platforms in Western art that have already generated reams of writing, tho’ maybe not with your exact focus which is too bad.

    Buon fresco Fresco a secco Mezzo-fresco Egg tempera Oil Paint

    The latter was such an amazing advance for a platform that people committed murder for its secrets, at least allegedly.

    Or in literature

    the chisel the pencil the pen, quill through ballpoint the typewriter the word processor

    Comment by George Fifield — 2011-06-12 @ 7:25 pm
  12. Two platforms that I think would be interesting to write about:

    • BBC Micro (Model B)

    • TRS-80

    Comment by David Berry — 2011-08-04 @ 6:53 pm
  13. Actually VAX/VMS would also be interesting..

    Comment by David Berry — 2011-08-04 @ 6:54 pm
  14. […] or limit what constitutes “platform studies.” But I do imagine they will inform other books in the MIT series. In any case, they provide an elegant starting point to begin thinking about […]

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