Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio Show Podcast Tackles the History of Video Games

Neil deGrasse Tyson has a pod­cast. I repeat, Neil deGrasse Tyson has a pod­cast. If you’re unfa­mil­iar (and you shouldn’t be), Tyson is Astro­physi­cist-in-res­i­dence at New York’s Nat­ur­al His­to­ry Muse­um and Direc­tor of its Hay­den Plan­e­tar­i­um. He’s also the most promi­nent advo­cate for a revi­tal­ized U.S. space pro­gram. Okay, back to the pod­cast. As an avid con­sumer of every sci­ence-based pod­cast out there, I can tell you that the StarTalk Radio Show (iTunesFeedWeb Site) has quick­ly risen to the top of my list. The very per­son­able Tyson is the big draw, but he has also made the wise deci­sion to include “come­di­an co-hosts, celebri­ties, and oth­er spe­cial guests.” In the episode right below, Tyson and come­di­an Eugene Mir­man (whom you might rec­og­nize as the voice of Gene from Bob’s Burg­ers) mix it up with video game design­er Will Wright and author Jeff Ryan.

Ryan’s Super Mario: How Nin­ten­do Con­quered Amer­i­ca—and the his­to­ry of video games more generally—is the top­ic of the show. Despite the less-than-stel­lar audio qual­i­ty, this is not to be missed. The con­ver­sa­tion is rapid-fire: Mir­man inter­jects hilar­i­ous inani­ties while Wright and Ryan speed through the fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry and Tyson throws knuck­le­ball ques­tions and enthus­es (at 4:30) that the “first real video game,” Space Wars, was about, what else, space. We also get the his­to­ry of the unfor­get­table Pong (at 5:59), the orig­i­nal Star Wars game (at 8:17), and, nat­u­ral­ly, Don­key Kong (at 3:19), designed by the now wild­ly famous (in Japan, at least) Shigeru Miyamo­to–who also invent­ed Mario, and who had nev­er designed a game in his life before Don­key Kong. All this and some clas­sic 8‑bit video game music to boot.

StarTalk in gen­er­al has much to rec­om­mend it. Tyson is the “nation’s fore­most expert on space,” and is prob­a­bly instant­ly rec­og­niz­able from his host­ing of NOVA sci­en­ceNow and his best­selling books. He is the pub­lic face of a sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty often in need of good press, and he has the rare abil­i­ty to trans­late abstruse con­cepts to the gen­er­al pub­lic in a humor­ous and approach­able way. Pre­vi­ous guest­s/­co-hosts have includ­ed Janeane Garo­fa­lo (in the “most argu­men­ta­tive Startalk pod­cast ever”) and John Hodg­man (of the Dai­ly Show and the “Mac vs. PC” ads). But above all, c’mon, it’s Neil deGrasse Tyson. The man deserved­ly has his own inter­net meme, inspired by his dra­mat­ic ges­tures in this video dis­cus­sion of Isaac New­ton from Big Think.

Enough said.

Watch the full Big Think inter­view with Tyson here. And don’t for­get to sub­scribe to the StarTalk Radio Show (iTunes — Feed — Web Site).

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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