A comprehensive look at the history of video games, from their humble beginnings in the 1940s to the cultural phenomenon they are today.
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Video games are a relatively new phenomenon, having only been invented in the late 1940s. However, they quickly became popular, with early arcade games such as “Pong” and “Pac-Man” becoming cultural icons. Since then, video games have evolved considerably, with ever more realistic graphics and gameplay. Today, video games are one of the most popular forms of entertainment, enjoyed by people of all ages around the world.
Pre-History: The First Games
The first video games appeared in the early 1950s. They were mostly simple games involving geometric shapes, dots, or text displayed on a screen. One of the earliest examples is “Tennis for Two”, a game created in 1958 by American physicist William Higinbotham. “Tennis for Two” was played on an oscilloscope, a device used to measure electrical signals. The game was very popular at the time, and is considered by some to be the first video game ever created.
Another early example of a video game is “Spacewar!”, which was created in 1962 by MIT student Steve Russell. “Spacewar!” was played on a computer called the DEC PDP-1. The game pits two players against each other in a battle to destroy each other’s spaceships. “Spacewar!” was very popular among computer programmers at the time, and is often credited as being one of the first video games to ever be created.
The First Commercial Games
The very first commercial video game console was theMagnavox Odyssey, invented in 1972 by Ralph H. Baer. It was released in May of that year, and came with simple games like Ping-Pong, Chase, and Tennis. But it wasn’t until 1975 that a commercial home video game system with interchangeable cartridges was available: the Fairchild Video Entertainment System (VES). The VES, however, was not successful.
In 1977, Atari—the company that would come to define the video game industry—released its first console: the Atari 2600 (originally known as the Atari VCS). The 2600 became popular due to its simple games, like Pong and Space Invaders, and its affordable price tag. Thanks to the success of the 2600, video gaming soon became a booming industry.
The Rise of Arcade Games
The first generation of video games (1972-1977) coincided with the golden age of arcade games. The first commercially successful video game, Pong, was a simple tennis simulation game that became a huge hit in 1972. This was followed by other successful games such as Space Invaders (1978) and Pac-Man (1980).
The arcade games of the 1970s and 1980s were typically played on coin-operated machines found in public places such as bars and amusement parks. These games were very simple in design and usually had just a single button or joystick for controls.
The popularity of arcade games declined in the early 1990s as home console systems such as the Nintendo Entertainment System became more popular. However, there has been a recent resurgence in popularity of arcade games, with many bars and restaurants now featuring vintage machines.
The Golden Age of Console Games
The golden age of console games is considered to be between the late 1970s and early 1980s. This was the era when video games first became popular with the general public, and when arcade games started to appear in public places like shopping malls and restaurants. Some of the most popular games from this era include “Pac-Man,” ” Donkey Kong,” “Space Invaders,” and “Asteroids.”
The Modern Era of Games
The Magnavox Odyssey, the world’s first commercial home video game console, was released in 1972. It was designed by Ralph H. Baer, a German immigrant who had worked in the United States since the 1940s. Baer’s device, which he called the “Brown Box,” used simple feedback from a player’s actions on a television screen to create rudimentary games like ping pong, chase, and target practice.
In 1975, a company called Atari released a commercial version of one of Baer’s early prototypes, Pong. The simple tennis game was an overnight success and ushered in the era of arcade games. Home video game consoles like Atari’s 2600 soon followed, allowing people to play games like Space Invaders and Pac-Man in their living rooms.
The 1980s saw the rise of personal computers as a gaming platform. Games like Zork and Oregon Trail were popular on early home computers like the Apple II and Commodore 64. In 1981, Donkey Kong became the first arcade game to be ported to a home console; it was an instant hit on the newly released Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The NES would go on to dominate the home console market for much of the 1980s with classics like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid.
The 1990s brought major changes to video gaming with the introduction of 3D graphics and CD-ROMs. In 1991, Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), which featured 16-bit graphics and improved sound quality over its predecessor. That same year, Sega released its first 16-bit console, the Genesis (also known as the Mega Drive outside North America). The SNES and Genesis would battle for supremacy throughout the decade; other notable consoles from this era include Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo’s 64-bit N64.
The first commercial arcade video game, Computer Space by Nutting Associates, was introduced in October 1971. However, it was Pong that really sparked the global video game craze when it was released by Atari in 1972. From there, the video game industry took off, with new technology fueling new games and new ways to play.