I’ve always wondered about video game history. The gaming industry has exploded in the last few decades. So I took some time to look into how my favorite pastime came into being.
As early as 1950, computer engineers were already creating the first video games. Very early games were tic-tac-toe and Nim. However, it wasn’t until much later that games became mass-produced and available to the public. In the 1970s the first home console was released as well as the first arcade machine. Which introduced the masses to video games.
The 1950s to 1970s Video Game History
At the very start, the technology was severely limited. So only the simplest of games could be produced. However, even with this limited hardware. The developers were able to create an AI opponent for tic tac toe. Which resulted in the first video game: Bertie the Brain was born.
The first video game ever was called Bertie the Brain, a version of Tic Tac Toe.
Bertie the Brain‘s inventor Josef Kates has a very interesting story. He escaped the clutches of Nazi Germany in Italy and managed to immigrate to Canada, after being kicked out of the UK. It is a great story and you can click here to learn more.
After Bertie the Brain’s small success, the next pivotal game that was released was Spacewar! At the time, the computers that were used were huge. As they were essentially file cabinets fitted with computer parts. But then the PDP-1 was introduced which only took up 2 meters sq of space. It came with a CRT screen.
Spacewar! is a 2 player space game where they try to shoot each other down. Considering the computing power of the time this was an amazing step forward. But still, the player base was limited to a select few, though it was gradually expanding.
So it Begins! The 1970s
During the 1970s more games were developed for the big mainframes that were housed by Universities and other research facilities. There were even Star Trek and a J R R Tolkien-inspired games that were developed for these big machines. Unfortunately due to the size and the cost of these machines, the average person would never see them.
Enter the first arcade and home machines. The first arcade machine to be universally acclaimed was pong. Two sliders at opposite ends of the screen try to score against their opponent. It was unveiled in 1972. Unfortunately for the developers, Atari, many of their rivals would go on to copy the idea. But with so much competition they had to innovate to survive.
The Home Console
The first home console was the Magnavox Odyssey. The device could only produce monochrome and a very limited amount of polygons. The games were on circuit boards that were swappable which eventually led to the invention of cartridges that some devices still use.
The gamepad was also very limited to dials rather than the buttons, and analog sticks that we use today. But looking at the aesthetic of the console, it doesn’t look all that bad. Maybe prettier than some later home consoles.
The Magnavox Odyssey was developed by Sanders Associates and manufactured by Magnavox hence the name. It was released in 1974, only two years after pong. The introductory price was around $99 dollars, however, if you take into account inflation, etc would be around $597. Which is more than the list price of a PlayStation 5 or Xbox One Series X. Which is pretty expensive considering the Magnavox could only play 28 games throughout its life cycle. But being first is always expensive.
From the late 80s to the 90s gaming exploded into the average person’s home. By the time we get to the 2010s, game consoles have become commonplace in almost all households. Even handheld gaming has made significant improvements.