The Results Are In: World Video Game Hall of Fame Class of 2017

Spring 2008, Cedar Point. After years of playing imitations, I met the real thing. Photo by Eric Stevens.


2017 has been a dark year, but today, on a cloudy spring day in Rochester, NY, there is a spot of brightness. Donkey Kong has finally been recognized, joining classics from Nintendo and other video game publishers in the World Video Game Hall of Fame at The Strong National Museum of Play.

Donkey Kong, of course, was instrumental in Nintendo’s early success in America when it was released to arcades in 1981. The great ape stood atop the beams of an unfinished building, holding a woman named Pauline captive. Unlike King Kong, the film which would inspire a lawsuit between Universal Pictures and Nintendo, there were no airplanes dispatched to rescue the damsel in distress; there was a carpenter in red, her boyfriend known only as “Jumpman.”

Shigeru Miyamoto, Donkey Kong’s designer and, over thirty years later, a living legend in the industry, had intended Jumpman to star in many of his games. While his name and occupation changed, Jumpman lives on as a plumber named Mario (Super Mario Bros., Mario’s breakout role from 1985, was inducted in 2015). Donkey Kong spawned two sequels, Donkey Kong Junior (which feature Mario as the villain) and Donkey Kong 3, as well as the educational Donkey Kong Junior Math, before taking a leave from the spotlight as Nintendo moved into the home console market.

Donkey Kong and the titular arcade game returned to Nintendo’s Game Boy in 1994, followed by the Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong Land series developed for Nintendo by Rare. In the two decades since, Donkey Kong has appeared in many more titles as the hero, a sports icon, and a musician. The Kong family has grown to include dozens of primates of all species.

The 2017 class of the World Video Game Hall of Fame also includes Pok√©mon Red and Green for Game Boy (the original versions released in Japan in 1996), 1991’s Street Fighter II arcade game, and Halo, released on Xbox in 2001.

The World Video Game Hall of Fame was established in 2015 and is part of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at The Strong in Rochester, NY.

Long Live Rock and Roll: Chuck Berry in Rochester

Berry

Photo by Reed Hoffman, Democrat and Chronicle. Published February 27, 1988.

I know “Sweet Little Sixteen” is about a girl, but that was about the age that music became a major part of my life. Rock and roll was about fifty years old at the time, and I learned it backwards. I traveled through time, learning who influenced my favorite artists, then who influenced those artists, and eventually, it all came back to one man: Chuck Berry. He was never given the royal treatment, but he crafted the crown that Elvis wore. His influence – whether directly, or through the white artists that made his music acceptable – has shaped more than six decades of popular music, from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to every guitar player, big or small, playing today (or in the past, if they accidentally traveled back to 1955). It’s easy to listen to his many hits today and hear a generic, 1950s rock and roll sound, but those records broke new ground in popular music, pushing lyrics and the electric guitar to new levels.

The package tours that were a staple of early rock and roll brought Berry to the Rochester Community War Memorial on four occasions in the late 1950s, along with Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, and others, including Rochester’s own Jerry Engler. On July 14, 1956, “Rochester teen-agers exploded in appreciative applause” according to the next day’s Democrat and Chronicle. “The two most popular artists, Al Hibler and Chuck Berry, illustrated the catholic taste of the young audience,” wrote Constance Gomberts. “… Chuck Berry inspired rhythmic clapping and squeals of joy with his twangy, pulsating ‘Maybelline’ and ‘Roll Over, Beethoven.'”

Ms. Gomperts was not as enthusiastic just a year later, however. While her July 15, 1956 piece began with the line “Man, it was cool!,” her September 18, 1957 article was titled “Rock ‘n’ Roll Show Solid – Solid Noise, That Is.” Perhaps she deterred Berry from returning to Rochester, for his next performance in the City of Rochester was August 1, 1985, just a year before joining the inaugural class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The “Rock  Roll’n Remember” package tour also brought Frankie Avalon and Johnny Rivers to the downtown festival site. Three years later, on February 26, 1988, he returned to Rochester, performing two shows at the Renaissance Theatre on Liberty Pole Way.

Like so many acts in the years since then, Rochester was passed over for Syracuse and Buffalo on subsequent tours, though Berry would perform at the Nazareth College Arts Center in 1968, and at SUNY Geneseo in 1995. For the latter half of his career, Berry traveled without a band, picking up a local group to support him at each stop. In 1988, he was supported by a band led by Chet Catallo. Unfortunately, I have failed at finding which local bands backed him in 1985 and 1995. Hopefully, they remember.