Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Merge. It was written by Spenser Davis and it was directed by Andrew Hobgood. It was about the people who made Atari, which started out as a very small business and turned into a very successful one. Then Warner Brothers bought Atari and started turning it into a very professional workplace which nobody there liked. It is about workplace culture, the power of video games, and dedication to creativity. I thought this was a great show. It kept me engaged the entire time. I had a lot of fun seeing it, but it also made me learn a lot and want to find out more.
Atari started out in the 70s founded by Nolan Bushnell (Wes Needham) and Ted Dabney (Jeffery Owen Freelon, Jr.)and became a huge deal. Atari made Pong, which was one of the very first popular video games. But before that they made Computer Space, but not as Atari. They made it as Syzygy, which was Atari before it became popular, but no one could pronounce it and they found out the name was already taken. Then Ted said, "Thank God!" because he hated the name. I thought that was hilarious. I hated the name too. Even though Syzygy is actually about space, Atari sounds more space-like. When they made Pong they were still just working in their house. They got Al Alcorn (Esteban Reyna) to make the game and put in sound effects. But the hilarious thing is that the only sound effects they could put in apparently were little short pings and long buzzes. Then they start playing it for the first time and they are mesmerized by it, which to us now is pretty funny because it's basically just a few pixels being slapped around on screen. And there is a girl named Dawn (Stephanie Shum) there who is a babysitter and acts like their secretary on the phone so that they sound like a bigger company and more professional. She is important because she basically starts out with company and does a lot for them, but is never really fully appreciated. She is also always there with Atari; even when the creators leave, she continues. And I think it is her story, because she is always around. The only game she misses is Computer Space. You also know about her before the show really gets started with the story of Atari, because the show skips to level 6 to start and that shows you that she will stick around for 6 levels at least. I did really like how that worked out because, when level 6 came back around, things started to make more sense. I think it is a great way to start a play with a bit of a sneak peak of what's to come, also known as starting in media res. I'm using that fancy term just to show how literate I am! ;-)
There is a court battle in the style of Street Fighter between Activision (which is another video game company that most of Atari has switched over to) and Warner Brothers/Atari. Thankfully Activision wins the court case. They did it in the style of Street Fighter because they didn't have access to the court documents, but also it was more exciting! They had repeating moves, like in Street Fighter, where they are always shifting back and forth. I found that hilarious. Ted, who has a huge afro now, has come to defend Activision and he leaps in very heroically, which I found very funny. Also, Dawn did this awesome move where she ran over everyone's backs and then attacked Stuart; that was hilarious and also very badass.
People who would like this show are people who like short pings and long buzzes, Street Fighter court cases, and high people making video games. I thought this was an amazing show. I really liked it. I felt like this was a great way to learn a lot about the history of video games and to laugh a lot at the same time.
Photos: Evan Hanover