Video Games

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Evolution of Video Games

Evolution of Video Games


Play is universal, yet our current fascination for matching wits with machines is quintessentially modern. Building on the traditions of play established by the one-arm bandit, pachinko, and pinball machines, video games went through a remarkable transformation in their over fifty years of development, lurching from laboratory curiosity to $20 billion global entertainment industry. Many historians of computing prefer the terms “interactive play” or “digital entertainment” to refer to this fortuitous conjuncture of the computer and mass entertainment industries. “Video gaming” refers generically to the synergy of technological invention, computer entrepreneurialism, and cultural creativity emerging from related technological innovations—on mainframes, on PCs, in arcades, on purpose-built consoles, on handhelds, and in Internet computing. Thanks to key technological advancements, the competing corporations, and foundational genres (that is sports games, first-person shooter games, puzzle games, and others), video games have become the fastest growing sector in the entertainment economy.


Video games also ushered in a new generation of young people “comfortable and techno-literate enough to accept personal computers, electronic bulletin boards, desktop publishing, compact disks and the Web,” he writes, and pushed the development of microprocessors, broadband networks and display technologies. (Wilson, 2001)

Early in the 1950s mathematicians conceived of programming computers to play chess—an idea that culminated in Gary Kasparov's humiliating defeat at the hands of Deep Blue in May 1997. But the first operational video game was a tennis-simulation game demonstrated in 1958 as an instrumentation curiosity by the physicist William Higinbotham at the U.S. Department of Nuclear Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory to visiting scientists. Higinbotham wrote a program for an analog computer he called Tennis for Two played on a five-inch black-and-white oscilloscope screen from two control boxes—each with direction knob and serve button. He never bothered to patent the game. (Castronova, 2006)

The Making of an Interactive Medium

In 1966, Ralph Baer, an engineer at Sanders Associates, a military electronics consulting firm, approached video gaming from a different direction—as a novel use for surplus television screens. Baer, who had seen Tennis for Two, later stated, “You should be able to do something else with television besides just watch it.” By linking a TV screen display to electronic input controls Baer realized that video gaming involved eye-hand coordination. He developed Tennis as a prototype military training device. By 1967, Baer's interactive television gadget had taken shape as a primitive version of the Pong system—consisting of two knobs that can control the movement of two paddles on the screen. More microelectronics than computerized, this demo was shown to a Pentagon review board. (Hawisher, 2007)

The Pentagon couldn't see any future in video games as training simulators. So by the end of the 1960s, as microprocessor components were becoming available, Baer decided to upgrade the training system in ways that made it more enjoyable to play: Now two players could twist knobs on the console to control the movement of the rackets on the screen. Precise movements of the knobs produced immediately visualized effects on the ...
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