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Bunten Family Donates Critical Historical Documents and Artifacts to The Strong

We See Farther 2


The International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG), part of The Strong museum complex, has acquired the papers and artifacts of Dan Bunten (Dani Bunten Berry) from the Bunten family.

It would be difficult for me to be more pleased to see this take place, since I had the privilege of being Dan's friend and also serve as a Collections Advisor to ICHEG. 

Dan (2nd from the left in the top row in the photo above) is best known for designing M.U.L.E. (1983), one of EA's first titles and one of the most influential and inspiring multiplayer games in the history of the industry.  The design community was devastated when Dan passed away in 1998 after a battle with lung cancer at the age of 49.

As important as M.U.L.E. is, I think that throughout a long career Dan had the habit of consistently being interested in topics before everyone else was, and then approaching those topics with truly original thought. He was part of the earliest group of designers working on home computer games, and most of us from that era have stories about how he influenced us.

Many examples of Dan's originality are included in the papers and items donated by the Bunten family for preservation at ICHEG:

  • Wheeler Dealers (so rare that only about 50-100 units were sold), one of the first boxed computer games and perhaps the first to come with its own custom controller. Only a few copies of this game are known to have survived, and even fewer of the controllers.
  • Seven Cities of Gold, which was produced by Joe Ybarra, and as a fellow EA Producer I had the chance to be one of the Beta test players. Still one of my favorite all time games for its elegance and simplicity, though even after playing all night I could never amass the levels of wealth that Bing Gordon could during the Beta cycle.  (You can decide for yourself if there's a double entendre in that sentence.)
  • Robot Rascals, also an innovative mutliplayer game
  • Heart of Africa
  • Cartels & Cutthroats
  • Cyber Masters
  • Computer Quarterback, one of the first computer sports games for home systems
  • Modem Wars, the first direct player-to-player online game that did not go through a service like AOL or Prodigy, is one of the earliest precursors of today's online games.  I was working on the first games for AOL in parallel to Dan's development of Modem Wars, and I remember thinking, "What we're doing is really hard and these systems aren't built for it. But Dan doesn't have any system at all to help him, so I need to feel lucky and stop complaining!"

The family also donated personal papers from Dan's career in the game industry, including concept docs and game designs, business papers, photographs, and other personal materials.

Bunten's children, who have founded a company dedicated to preserving the games and their father's legacy, donated the papers.  I've had the chance to get to know the Buntens over the years, and I think their Dad would have great appreciation and gratitude for the care they're taking with his work.

In the official press release about the acquisition Dan's daughter, Melanie Bunten Stark, said "It is a privilege to have our dad's work at a place that truly understands what 'play' is all about and our dad would be humbled and honored."

I think she's right about how Dan would have reacted -- he probably would have said something to the effect of "Once museums start collecting stuff about me it means they've run out of worthwhile things to do."  The rest of the industry would not agree with Dan's opinion, however: he has been inducted into the AIAS Hall of Fame and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the IGDA.

ICHEG director Jon-Paul Dyson said, "The Bunten artifacts and the Dan Bunten (Dani Bunten Berry) Papers donated by the Bunten family represent a significant addition to the center's archival repository of electronic game history; they take an important place alongside other major ICHEG holdings, among them, collections from such luminaries as Ralph Baer, Don Daglow, and Will Wright."

Some of the Bunten items are on view at eGameRevolution, the exhibit on the history of electronic games at ICHEG that opens this month. The 5,000-square-foot installation traces the history of video games from pioneer Ralph Baer's first Brown Box prototype (the first consumer video game) to modern titles, and imcludes 25+ operating historic video games, classic game emulators, and modern game stations for play.

I had a chance to get a preview tour and I love how much emphasis is placed on "please play with this" instead of the traditional museum's "don't touch this."

If Dan were still with us he'd be in there all day playing and talking game design, and there are few people who were more interesting and from whom you'd learn as much just kicking around ideas (including some of my bad ones!).  

Dan's presenvce in the exhibit for me feels like something that is very Right in this world.