While video games are ubiquitous in Western culture today, few are aware that the popular form of entertainment traces its history all the way back to 1947. The earliest form of a video game was patented as an entertainment device using cathode ray tube beams to simulate missile fire at aircraft printed on a screen overlay. According to the patent application, players could turn knobs on the device to aim the beam and press a button to fire it. The screen was mounted in a cabinet, making the bulky game large and not viable for personal use.
During the 1950s and 1960s, mainframe computer programmers developed video games as side projects. None of the games saw commercial introduction. In 1961, developers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a game called Spacewar! on the DEC PDP-1 computer. The game enjoyed widespread popularity and was the precursor to many computer games coming after it, including arcade games such as Galaxy Game and Space Wars.
In the 1970s, developers were able to create arcade video games that offered players something different than pinball. The Galaxy Game was installed in Stanford University’s student union, and it served as the first coin-operated video game. Another offshoot of Spaceware!, Computer Space, became the first mass-produced coin-operated video game. The company that created it, Nutting Associates, produced 1,500 units for commercial sale.
When Atari, Inc., released Pong in 1972, they first manufactured it for use in computer arcades. With the success of the arcade units, Atari created the home console version in 1974 and began selling it to great success in 1975. Many manufacturers followed suit, flooding the market with games similar in style and play to Pong.
By the late 1970s, a new generation of console games were on the market, using interchangeable cartridges containing arcade-style games like Space Invaders. This led to the expansion of both gaming arcades and home use. The early 1980s brought an array of new styles of video games, due in large part to the growing use of personal computers in homes. During the 1980s, players could participate in action adventure games like The Legend of Zelda, maze games like Pac-Man, simulator games such as Battlezone, and many others.
From these earliest forms of electronic entertainment, video games have evolved into graphically rich, complex experiences that can be played on consoles, cell phones, handheld devices, computers, the Internet, and in arcades. In 2010, the video game industry earned $10.5 billion in revenue.
About the author: Anthony Sages is an executive with AXA Financial, Inc., in New York City. While he participates in many active pursuits such as extreme skiing and marathon running, he also enjoys the simple pleasures of a great video game.