A brief history of video games (Part I) – Safwat Saleem

Hi, I’m Medium Invader from the classic video game Space Invaders, and I want to tell you a little bit about where video games came from. A video game is an electronic game that has an interface designed for human interaction on a video device. Simple. Video games are used by scientists, the military, and people like you, and their evolution has spread across arcades, consoles, computers, smart phones, and all kinds of other electronics. These days video games are everywhere, but they were actually made in science labs. In fact, the earliest U.S. video game patent on record was in 1948, and at the time it was referred to as a cathode-ray tube amusement device. That’s a mouthful! Some of the earliest video games include the Nimrod computer, OXO, Tennis for Two, and my personal favorite, Spacewar! But none of these early video games were ever sold to the public because they were either too huge or too expensive to get out of the lab. This all changed when a man named Ralph Baer looked at his television screen and wondered how else it might be used. In 1972, Baer’s idea to get video games out of the science lab and into the living room led to the release of a game console called Odyssey. Odyssey allowed you to play a game on your TV. At about the same time, two other people, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, were working on something similar in a little company called Atari. You might have heard of it, and even if you haven’t, I’m sure that your Dad has. Atari’s first major game release was in 1972, an arcade game called Pong. It was an immediate hit, and it’s credited as the first commercially successful video game. Atari then released a home version of Pong in 1974. By 1978, competition between Atari and another game company called Midway was heating up. Midway had licensed an arcade game for the Japanese company, Taito, that put them on the map. The game: Space Invaders. It featured iconic actors, like me, and it went on to become the second highest selling arcade game of all time. Space Invaders also helped kick off what is known as the Golden Age of Arcade Games. In response, Atari followed with the release of the arcade game Asteroids, which ranked sixth on the list of highest selling arcade games. It was a good game, but it’s no Space Invaders. By 1980, color came to arcade games, and this was also the year that another video gaming milestone was born. Pac-Man, created by the Japanese company Namco, was brought to the U.S. by Midway. Important to the spread of video games into popular culture, Pac-Man was a character that could be licensed. It wasn’t long before it had a song on the charts, a Saturday morning television show, and all sorts of other products. In just a year, Pac-Man arcade games made over one billion dollars in quarters. Then, in 1981, a company called Nintendo started making waves in the U.S. video game market with their release of Donkey Kong. It was the earliest video game to have a story line. The story went a bit like this: Donkey Kong is the pet of a carpenter named Jumpman. Jumpman mistreats his pet ape, so the ape steals his girlfriend, leaving the game player to assume the role of Jumpman and rescue the girl. Jumpman was eventually renamed to Mario. Other iconic arcade games from the early 80s include Frogger, Dragon’s Lair, and Mario Brothers. Perhaps the last iconic game considered to be part of the Golden Age of Arcade Games is Double Dragon. It was the first really successful example of the beat-them-up genre. It was released in 1987, and, like Donkey Kong, it featured a damsel in distress storyline, a storyline common in many video games. By the mid-90s, the Golden Age of Arcade Games was coming to an end, and the home game console was gaining in popularity. While arcade games continued to decline in sales over the years, the popularity of video games was merely beginning, and we’ll talk about that and a lot more in part two of a brief history of video games.

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