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The history of video games

The history of video games originates in the 1940s when, after the end of World War II, the winning powers built the first programmable supercomputers such as the ENIAC, 1946.

The first attempts to implement character programs playful (initially chess programs) soon appeared, and were repeated over the next decades.

The first modern video games appeared in the 60s, and since then the world of video games has not stopped growing and developing with the only limit imposed by the creativity of developers and technological evolution.2 In recent years, there has been an era of technological progress dominated by an industry that promotes a model of rapid consumption where new superproductions become obsolete in a few months, but where at the same time a group of people and institutions - aware of the role that pioneer programs The companies that defined the market and the great visionaries had in the development of this industry - have begun the formal study of the history of video games.

most popular video games of all time

Donkey Kong, by Shigeru Miyamoto (1981), one of the most popular video games of all time.

The most immediate reflection of the popularity that the world of videogames has reached in contemporary societies is an industry that employs 120,000 people and generates multimillion-dollar benefits that increase year after year.

The impact of the The emergence of the world of video games meant a revolution whose social, psychological and cultural implications are the object of study of a whole new generation of social researchers who are addressing the new phenomenon from an interdisciplinary perspective, making use of research methodologies as diverse as specific to cultural anthropology, artificial intelligence, communication theory, economics or aesthetics, among others.

As with film and television, the videogame has managed to reach in just half century of history the status of artistic medium, and such an achievement has not had l ugar without a transformation and constant evolution of the concept of videogames and their acceptance. Born as an experiment in the academic field, it managed to establish itself as a product of mass consumption in just ten years, exerting a formidable impact on the new generations that watched video games with a novel audiovisual medium that would allow them to star in their own stories.

«Primitive» Consoles

In 1950, 90% of American households had at least one television set, a figure that contrasted sharply with 9% of the previous decade.

It was natural that various people related to that world began to wonder if it was possible to use these devices for anything other than the simple reception of programs.

Already in 1947 the Dumont company had explored the idea of ​​allowing viewers to play with their television sets; Thomas Goldsmith and Estle Mann, two of their employees, patented their cathode ray tube, an apparatus based on a simple electrical circuit that allowed spectators to fire missiles at a target, but which never got marketed.

A few years later an engineer of German origin who would end up being considered by many as the true father of home video games14 had a vision that would prove crucial in the further development of the electronic games industry: in 1951 Ralph Baer worked as a technical television and, along with some colleagues, had been commissioned to build a receiver from scratch.

To check the equipment they used instruments that drew lines and patterns of colors that technicians could move across the screen to adjust it, and from that idea Baer raised the possibility of building television sets that allowed more than just the reception of the programs.

However, the engineer kept his idea away until a few years later, when he presented his Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game console in history.

The first platforms

Galaxy Game, the first arcade machine ever

Galaxy Game, by Pitts and Tuck (1971).

In the late 60s Bill Pits, a student at Stanford University fascinated by Spacewar! He had the idea of ​​making a version of the game that worked with coins for exploitation in the recreation rooms.

Unfortunately, the price of the hardware required to run the program was much higher than what the classroom owners, accustomed to paying about $ 1,000 for the electromechanical machines of the time, could afford. When the new PDP-11 appeared on the market at the "economic" price of $ 20,000, Pitts thought he had the real opportunity to build his machine, and called Hugh Tuck, a friend of the High School to build a prototype. In 1971 both formed Computer Recreations, Inc., with the purpose of building a coin-operated version of Spacewar !; Pitts took over the programming and Tuck, a mechanical engineer, built the cabin. After three and a half months of work they had finished the machine, but decided to change the title of the program to Galaxy Game.

The invention obtained some resonance, but with a price of 10 cents per game, it was not profitable, so they built a second version of the machine that allowed a single PDP-11 computer to take care of up to eight consoles simultaneously, thus amortizing the expenses. The machine was installed in June 1972 in the Coffe House of Tresidder Union, near Stanford University, and remained there quite successfully until 1979, when it was disassembled and stored in an office. From 1997 to 2000 it was exhibited at Stanford University, and has since been exhibited at the Computer Museum History Center in Mountain View, California.

Magnavox Odyssey, the first video game console in history

Magnavox Odyssey, by Ralph Baer (1972).

Ralph Baer had not given up on his efforts, and in January 1968 he had taken the first patent for his concepts about video games.

Similarly, he had continued to present his "Brown Box" to different companies for possible marketing, including RCA, General Electric, Zenith Sylvania and Magnavox, but they all rejected his offer.note 12 In July 1968 Bill Enders, a Former RCA executive who worked for Magnavox and who had been impressed with Baer s first demonstrations, convinced other company executives to give Baer a chance. After a second demonstration Gerry Martin, chief marketing officer of the television division of the firm, was convinced and took over the project.

Magnavox signed an agreement with Sanders Associates - the company for which Baer and his collaborators worked - and in March 1971 the product was finally approved. After some changes that mainly affected the number of games included, the manufacture of the newly baptized Magnavox Odyssey in a Tennesse factory began, and in April 1972 the firm presented the new machine to the press and its distributors. At the same time, the first machine accessory, a good-looking plastic rifle, and ten additional sets, all sold separately, were presented.

The flyers of the time already showed a video game console exactly as we know it today, but Magnavox made a series of marketing mistakes that played against it: on the one hand the television commercial gave the impression that the console only could use with a television set of the same brand, which was not true; On the other hand, the distribution was limited to the Magnavox franchises, which considerably limited the number of potential customers.

However, they managed to sell about 130,000 units in the Christmas campaign, a success, which attracted the attention of numerous entrepreneurs, including Nolan Bushnell. 26 note 13

Pong, or the birth of the industry

On May 24, 1972, Nolan Bushnell was among the audience attending a demonstration of the Magnavox Odyssey that was taking place in Burlingame, California.

Bushnell had the opportunity that day to play ping-pong, one of the games that included the new console as standard, and after this episode he hired Alan Alcorn, an engineer from Ampex who he put to work in an arcade version of the game that received the name of Pong.


The game, which became the first title of the newly created Atari, did not involve major innovations regarding the Baer title, but it did have improvements (improved movement routine, screen scoring, sound effects, among others) that made portend the success he would achieve in the classrooms.

When Bushnell and Dabney saw Alcorn s work finished they decided to change their plansnote 15 and try the new machine at the Andy Capp s Tavern, a place in Sunnyville, California. At the same time Bushnell appeared at the offices of Bally Midway, which at that time was engaged in the business of pinball, to present his work, but the proposal was rejected because, among other things, the game did not have an option for a single player However, when the owners of the Andy Capp s Tavern called Alcorn to report a breakdown in his prototype he discovered that the machine had stopped working because his coin deposit was full.

This episode encouraged Bushnell, who addressed to Nutting Associates, but the answer was also negative, which ended up convincing him that it should be Atari herself who was responsible for the manufacture and distribution of the machines.

The first eleven units were sold easily, which meant a capital inflow into the company that Bushnell used to expand its facilities; The same happened with the second delivery of 50 machines. When the company was overwhelmed with orders it could not meet, Bushnell asked for a loan of $ 50,000 to meet a request for 150 devices and went to an unemployment office to hire a good number of operators. Despite the numerous problems they caused (among the new employees were not a few addicts to heroin and hashish, which helped spread the hippie image of the company), Bushnell was able to deal with his requests, which meant the definitive support for the game and for the new company
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