The 'Shroom:Issue LXXXII/A History of Video Games

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A History of Video Games

by Chuck Ballymoo (talk)
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Since this is the first month of the year, how about I delve into the history of the first video game in all of history. At least, that's what everyone thinks. That game would have to be the inimitable Pong, released in the arcades by Atari, the American video game company founded by a man named Nolan Bushnell.

The history of video games did not even seriously begin to be recorded until the early 90's. Perhaps that is why it is such a commonly believed legend that Pong is the first video game. Pong, as I'm sure you know, is the instantly recognizable monochrome Ping-Pong video game released for the arcades in late 1972. It had only two moveable graphics, which were two vertical white "paddles" (if you can even call them that, more like little squares) that moved up and down on either side of the screen. A ball, that was also square, (yes, a square ball... good grief) bounced off either one of them, depending on which side of the screen the ball was, over a white-dashed line that I guess was supposed to be the net, and you got that oh-so-recognizable pong sound, hence the eponym. The score was even kept in the upper right and left hand screen.

Pong was highly primitive, even by the standards of the early 70's. Pong was so primitive, it is no wonder that it is a commonly held belief that it holds the record for first real video game in all of history. A system known as Odyssey was actually released before Pong even came out. The system was released by Magnavox. It also had a table tennis game, where the player had to keep score with a pencil and paper. The system was a commercial flop, for it had a hundred dollar price tag. Yeah, even adjusted for early 70's inflation that is still cheaper than the current game systems, but people were not going to shell out that kind of money for the cheap-ass monochrome blip-bloop-bleep games of that era. Pong only cost twenty-five cents to play and enjoy. So it was very well received as a result of this. Pong was also much better than the POS Ping-Pong game that Magnavox put out, at least the game play made a bit of sense, and the sound Pong made was richly satisfying.

Pong was intended to be created as a simple of a game as possible. Two paddles and one ball. The first Pong machine was hooked-up in Sunnyvale, California, at a bar known as Andy Capp's Tavern. The bar also had it's share of pinball machines, and a copy of Computer Space. By a couple years later, Atari's Pong machines, as well as a plethora of bootleg imitation versions, could be found in bars and pool halls all over America, and by 1975, home versions made popular Christmas gifts.

Pong sailed across the Pacific and made it's way to Japan in 1973. Bushnell tried to open up a Japanese office, but learned the hard way, as do most American companies, that you don't make grand inroads in the Japanese marketplace without first allying with an already existing Japanese company. So he sold Atari of Japan to a man named Masaya Nakamura, and that company became known as Namco.

So no, Pong was not the first video game. But I guarantee you, if you go around asking random people on the street what the first video game was, probably upwards of 90% who are knowledgeable enough at least to even attempt to give you an answer will say Pong. But again, it was not the first video game. It was not even the first table-tennis game! Nor was it the first coin-operated game (that distinction goes to a game called Computer Space. But there is one thing Pong was and still is: The first successful video game. And that is a record no superior game can even take away from it. Thanks for being with me for this month.

Ping-Pong Panic from WarioWare: Twisted! was largely based on Pong.


Issue LXXXII
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