Curious Kids: Who invented video games? | Kiowa County Press


For almost as long as there have been computers, there have been video games. Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

Noé Wardrip-Fruin, University of California, Santa Cruz

Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you would like an expert to answer, send it to [email protected]


Who invented video games? TJ, 7, Worcester, Massachusetts


Some people love to play. Give them a ball, a pen, or a bunch of papers and they’ll find a way to play with it. In fact, enough people love to play and every time someone invents something new people find a way to play with it.

Christopher Strachey did not invent modern computers. He didn’t even see one until 1951, several years after others created the first ones. But he had been friends with Alan Turing, who was one of the inventors of modern computers, when he was at university in England.

Five vertical brackets of antique electronics
The Mark I is considered the first computer because it could store programs written for it. Anders Sandberg / Flickr, CC BY

So when Strachey heard about the new Mark I computer being installed at the University of Manchester in the UK, he was able to ask Turing for a copy of the programming manual. He studied the manual, then had the chance to write a program for the computer. People were so impressed with his work that he quickly got access to the computer whenever he had free time from his teaching job.

Strachey spent his school vacation working on a checkers program, which was remarkably complicated for the time. He was showing the map on a screen – a cathode ray tube. Players wrote down their movements on a teletype, a typewriter electronically connected to the computer, which both printed the movements on paper and sent them to the computer. The machine would “look ahead” at the various possible moves and countermoves, both to choose what to do next and to mock players for particularly bad moves.

a checkerboard displayed on a black and white cathode ray tube
The first video game was a digital version of the checkers. Wikimedia Commons

I call this game “MUC Drafts” in my book “How Pac-Man Eats”, because Strachey never gave it a name. MUC stands for Manchester University Computer and drafts is the British name for ladies. I think it’s the first video game. But there are a lot of cheerful people, so someone else could have gone first. Around the same time that Strachey was creating MUC Drafts, AS (Sandy) Douglas created a tic-tac-toe game, which was also displayed on a CRT, for the University of Cambridge’s EDSAC computer. In the future, we may find that other playful people made other video games for early computers.

People still play video game versions of board games and card games, but that’s usually not the first thing you think of when someone says “video games.” Typically people think of the video display showing a simulated space, with one or more features that the player can control in that space – perhaps by soaring in the sky in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or the buildings. and the people in Civilization.

The next big step (that I know of) towards such games is now called Tennis for Two – although it didn’t have a name when it was created. William Higinbotham, Robert V. Dvorak and David Potter created it as a demonstration for Visitors’ Day 1958 at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. They used an old-fashioned analog computer to create a side view of a tennis court, showing the ground, a net, and a ball flying over the net. But after the day of the visit, it was taken apart.

Space war! was another demonstration project, released in 1962 by a group of engineers at MIT that included Steve “Slug” Russell, Peter Samson, Dan Edwards, and Martin Graetz. It has taken the computer world by storm.

Rolling Stone magazine even sponsored a “Space War! Olympics” in 1972 – an incredible level of publicity at a time when most people had never even seen a computer in person, let alone played a video game. .

Space war! was the first video game to gain public attention.

Space war! is the first game to do everything people expect from a video game today. There was a simulated space, with moving objects. In this case, it was outer space, with a background of stars and a central sun that exerted gravity. There were things that players controlled in this space, especially two spaceships locked in battle. And there were visual flourishes, like fire coming out of the backs of ships whenever players used their thrusters to move around.

Video games entered the house in 1972 with the release of the Magnavox Odyssey game console. Ralph Baer, ​​Bob Tremblay, Bob Solomon, Bill Rush and other engineers at Sanders Associates were trying to find a way to play games on home TVs. They had the idea of ​​a back and forth of a ball: electronic ping-pong, the precursor of Pong, a game that has become very popular.

From there, video games became a growing force in global culture – fueled by people who love to play.


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The conversation

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Professor of Computer Media, University of California, Santa Cruz

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

About Florence M. Sorensen

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