Those who know me know that I love the concept of multiclassing. I love when digital plays with real. When nerdery exists with business. When education holds hands with gaming. When technology tangos with art. And I have the good fortune of living in the Philadelphia area. So let’s take those aforementioned topics and throw them all into one mixing bowl for a second. That’s what I was able to experience Friday night celebrating the kickoff for Philly Tech Week.
And that celebration? Playing PONG. On the side of the Cira Centre. Which is a building over 400 feet tall. From about a mile out. For all the city to see. Magical.
Philly Tech week is an annual celebration of technology and the arts through over 100 events, naturally taking place in the city of brotherly love. As Technically Philly‘s Christopher Wink said at the event, Philly Tech Week is to show folks the amazing minds and the amazing work that’s being done in the Philadelphia area, and about the intersection of arts and technology to inspire the region. This year to kick it off along those lines, Dr. Frank Lee of Drexel University and his crew rigged the Cira Centre with hundreds of LED’s, each one mapped to its own IP address (pretty slick right?), and coded a version of PONG that could communicate with each of those lights. The controls were outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where the rest of the party was. So from the museum steps famous for that Rocky training montage, denizens of our fair city could watch some classic gameplay on an 83,000 square foot makeshift screen.
Why PONG though? In the words of Dr. Lee when he spoke to Polygon last month, “Pong is part of our culture,” he said. “Pong lives in every game that came since then. If you get down the tree of the life of the video game, it will lead at the root to Pong. Pong was the first successful commercial game.” Makes a lot of sense given that the good doctor describes himself as a gamer, and he was also one of the two paddle combatants in the inaugural match. He defeated Jerry Sweeney, CEO of the Brandywine Realty Trust, the company that owns the Cira Centre. It was a clash of titans – Sweeney, the guy that owns the building, taking on Lee, the guy hacking it.
Dr. Lee pulled out the win in the 5 point match, but as mentioned by Christopher Wink, who emceed the whole event, with an asterisk next to it in the history books – see the video below to see what I’m talking about:Please enter the url to a YouTube video.
Outside of the main event, there were classic arcade machines set up as well as some live chuptunes. The whole thing was threatened by weather, but in addition to Dr. Lee and Mr. Sweeney about 60 players were able to go to old school war in the hour and change the event was able to last. Luckily for the couple hundred of other folks that were there to see the action, the rain held off for a good bit. Unfortunately for me though, it started just in time to render me drenched by the time i finished my trek from the Art Museum to Suburban Station to catch my train home.
Dr. Lee talked about working with the Guinness folks about establishing the world record for the biggest video game ever. Apparently something similar was done by Atari in Kansas City a while back, but that was only a 22 story building. The Cira Centre is 29, so mathematically there shouldn’t be any issues getting the record confirmed.
It was an awesome time and a great way to kick off the events of the coming week. Oh and by the way, in your face Kansas City.
With love, Philadelphia.