Humans have always loved to play games. From Tag and Hide-and-Seek, to Laser Tag and Pokemon Go, to Poker and Chess, we love to play our entire lives.
In the last hundred years, playing has gone through a meteoric transformation the advent and evolution of computers and video games.
We left off in 1964 at Dartmouth, where the computer programming language BASIC, as well as the computer time-share system, were created. Now John Kemeny’s quote, “everyone is a programmer” came to life.
The next year, in the same place, the first computer football game was created by a student programmer.
In 1966, Ralph Baer had an idea about playing video games on a television. He jotted down some notes, laying the foundation for his television video game development.
In a year’s time, he’d developed his “Brown Box,” a wood-paneled prototype offering tennis and other video games for television play.
In 1968, Baer put the patent on his interactive television game, which would become the design for the first home video game system, released by Magnavox just four years later, a game by the name of Odyssey.
In 1970, Scientific American’s “Mathematical Games” column features the rules for John Conway’s “Game of Life.” Life is a “zero-player game” that evolves based on its initial input, and is then simply observed.
In 1971, some college students in Minnesota created a simulation of the early American pioneers’ journey west. Oregon Trail was originally played on a single teletype machine, but was later nationally distributed by the Minnesota Educational Computer Consortium.
Oregon Trail was a popular game, played by impressionable children all over the country in school computer labs, and is indelibly inked on popular culture and collective memory.
Even now, one can purchase a t-shirt online with the iconic green-on-black 8-bit image of the ox-pulled covered wagon, with matching lettering that says, “you have died of dysentery.”
The game is even available online for streaming play, for you nostalgic gamers!
1972 saw the release of another icon. Nolan Bushnell, co-founder of Atari, assigned a training exercise to Allan Alcorn. Alcorn submitted a 2-D table tennis game, inspired by the Magnavox Odyssey’s ping-pong game. (Of course, the similarity was the cause for a later lawsuit against Atari.)
Atari developed Alcorn’s design and built it into a coin-operated arcade game cabinet. They put the coin-operated arcade game in a tavern in California for testing. But before long, it stopped working… because it was so full of quarters that it jammed!! The arcade legend Pong was born.
The sweeping success of Odyssey and Pong helped establish the videogame industry.
Soon after the release of Pong, other companies began producing similar games, followed by new types of games. Atari continued competing with more innovative games, and the industry, and the market, took off.
Stay tuned for the future!!