The Cooperstown Model Comes To Video Games

Whether you think it should be in Tokyo, Silicon Valley or elsewhere, the International Video Game Hall of Fame inducts its inaugural class this weekend in Ottumwa, Iowa. Today, the mayor went on NPR to justify why it belongs there.

Mayor Dale Uehling appeared on this afternoon's All Things Considered and invoked Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and a place that actually has less of a factual connection to the creation of baseball than Ottumwa does to video games. Yet Cooperstown, even after it was long settled that the sport evolved from English stick-and-ball games, remains a legitimate home for the game under the concept that it represents the sport as it is played and enjoyed by the whole of America.

Ottumwa, with its documented connection to the early 1980s arcade craze through Walter Day's Twin Galaxies arcade (which later relocated and became the global high score certifying authority), has at least as much of a claim to being a spiritual home. And the truth is, both halls of fame were started as a local tourism and economic development gamble, by people who decided to plant a flag, and let others challenge it if they wanted. Both inducted their first class of Hall of Famers without a dedicated building to enshrine them.

I was Cooperstown's daily newspaper reporter in the late 1990s and last year I reported on the Video Game Hall of Fame movement as it was beginning in Ottumwa, before it even had the attention of the business and civic leaders who've made this coming weekend a reality. I can't be there this weekend, but someday I will make that pilgrimage. Because think the two cities have plenty in common, even if, as Uehling says, Ottumwa has a four-lane highway and Amtrak, and Cooperstown doesn't.

[Image originally published in LIFE Magazine, November 1982]