Welcome to Episode 102 of Flash Past. On this episode, special guest Brad Hayden and Danny talk about the history of video games. Danny has never been what you’d call a “gamer,” and Brad was born with a joystick in his hand. The pair discuss games from 1940 today and beyond. Here’s a fun fact: A physicist named Willy Higinbotham invented the first true “video game” in 1958. It was a ping pong type game he called Tennis for Two. Willy was also part of the team responsible for creating the first nuclear bomb. Later in life he became a leader in the movement for nuclear nonproliferation. Have a listen and learn about Willy, Steve Russell, Ralph Baer, Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney and whole lot of other people’s ties to Atari, Nintendo, PlayStation, XBox and more.
Long before Pong, back in 1940 or so, Thomas Goldsmith and Estle Mann created a cathode ray tube amusement device. Now, it technically wasn’t a “video game” per se, but it was a machine with a display created to entertain. Using knobs and buttons, the player would move a cathode ray beam around the screen shooting down enemy planes. Clearly imagination was an important part of gaming in the early days.
In 1972 Atari released Pong, their immensely popular paddle-controlled ping pong game. It was sold exclusively by Sears under the Sears Tele-Games logo and it spread like wildfire, becoming the hottest Christmas present that year.
The 80s saw a boom in video game technology. Intelivision debuts to compete with the Atari 2600, Activision becomes the first third-party video game producer, Pac-Man chomps his way into our hearts, the Commodore 64 is released, the game Tetris is created, and Nintendo gives us the NES and the Game Boy. Oh, by the way, this is when we’re introduced to the TurboGrafx 16 and the Sega Genesis. It was a good time to be a kid.
Higher quality graphics and more powerful gaming consoles were the things for the 90s. The Super Nintendo, the Jaguar, Sony’s PlayStation, the N64… gaming was getting HUGE. People were noticing. Among those people, senators Joseph Lieberman and Herbert Kohl who launched an investigation into video game violence, hoping to ban these terrible, mind-altering murder trainers. The result was the ESRB.
Games have continued to become more and more realistic and complex. There are seemingly endless worlds where players can immerse themselves into a fantasy and spend hours and hours there. Being active is part of the gaming experience now, too. The Wii and the Kinect — among others — track a player’s movements effectively making the whole person the controller. Virtual reality is on the horizon as well. Where will video games take us next?