Spectravision ‘China Syndrome’ Advertisement, 1982

Exhibit / November 29, 2016

china-syndrome-1982Object Name: China Syndrome video game advertisement
Maker and Year: Spectravision, 1982
Object Type: Print advertisement
Image Source: Tomorrow’s Heroes
Description: (Richard McKenna)

After a partial nuclear meltdown occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant only days before the release of a 1979 film discussing just that possibility, the term “China Syndrome”—used by nuclear power experts to describe a hypothetical scenario in which an overheating reactor core melted its way to the other side of the planet—quickly passed into common usage, familiarizing all with the horrifying possibility.

The dangers of nuclear energy were treated in various video games throughout the 1980s, starting with Atari’s Scram (1981), a game that asked players to effect the emergency shutdown of a reactor, the titular SCRAM (an industry acronym variously cited as meaning Safety Control Axe Man or Safety Cut Rope Axe Man, both of which may be apocryphal). In 1982, the emerging genre was expanded by Spectravision’s China Syndrome, a game that invited players to recover “dangerous radioactive particles” and restore normal operations at the “Spectra Island” nuclear power facility, which “has been providing efficient low cost power to the residents of Spectraville.” The China Syndrome guidebook offered “additional versions for young children.”

Other nuclear meltdown-themed games followed, including Kerian Software’s 1984 Meltdown and British software company Alligata’s 1986 Meltdown—the latter presumably inspired by the tragic events at Russia’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant earlier the same year.

6 thoughts on “Spectravision ‘China Syndrome’ Advertisement, 1982

  1. There was a game for the Commodore 64. You had a semi-isometric view of rooms in a reactor and a team of people in radiation suits. You could switch between them and I think they started scattered in different rooms. If I remember correctly, you had to find your way to the control room with the right equipment to shut down the reactor, but I never had the rules. I ended up exploring the place and trying to figure the game out.

    I can’t recall the name of the game though. Very atmospheric and left an impression. Wish I could remember the title.

  2. Pingback: “Look It Up, Check It Out”: REX 84 and the History of an American Conspiracy

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