A History of Video Games

Although video games reached the masses in the 1970s, the history of video games can be traced to as early as the 1950s in academia, when computer scientists designed simple games and simulations for research. Video games became popular with the introduction of video arcade games and gaming consoles controlled with joysticks and buttons, along with computer graphic displays. Computer Space, the first commercial arcade video game by Nutting Associates, was introduced in 1971. And the popular Pong from Atari immediately followed in 1972.

In that year Magnavox offered Odyssey, the first home video game system. The Odyssey was very limited. It had no microprocessor. The core of the system comprised of a board carrying about 48 transistors and diodes. The graphic was very simple and required the use of custom plastic overlays attached to the TV screen. Later in 1975, a home version of Pong began selling exclusively through Sears. Atari recorded a phenomenal success with Pong, paving the way for the future of home video games.

Then came game systems with removable cartridges which allows one play many video games with the same hardware. The first true removable gaming system, Fairchild Channel F, was released in 1976. Atari followed again, launching its Atari VCS 2600 with removable cartridges in 1977 which was also a commercial success. Atari 2600 came with a MOS 6502 microprocessor, 128 bytes of RAM, 4-kilobyte ROM-based game cartridges and a custom graphics chip, Stella.

Games were plastic cartridges housing software encoded on a ROM chip wired on a PCB with metal contacts along an edge. These metal contacts connect to a plug on the main board of the console when a cartridge is plugged into the system. Once powered, the system would detect the ROM and load the game software into memory. Game systems such as Atari’s VCS 2600 and 5200, Coleco’s ColecoVision and Mattel’s IntelliVision popularized home video games. But the poor quality of home video game products in comparison to arcade standards was very discouraging. Then, Nintendo’s NES introduced in 1985 changed everything changed and revived the home video game market.

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was different in three major ways:

  • it replaced the joystick with a pad controller,
  • modified arcade video games for use in the home system,
  • and the hardware was aggressively pricey, profiting from the games themselves.

The cartridge-based console games market experienced rapid expansion, exceeding $2 billion by 1989. Sega, Sony, and Microsoft also created their own home video game systems. Large companies such as Electronic Arts, Epyx, and LucasArts started producing more console games. The 1990s saw the decline of arcades, the transition to 3D video games, improvement in handheld games, and PC gaming. We have since seen the emergence of new video games like The Legend of Zelda, Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy. These games successfully enticed many people to purchase the NES, even those that were previously not interested in home video game systems.

By 2006, there was mobile phone gaming. And by 2013 players could control game actions by body movements. Mobile games and online gaming became popular spurred by the introduction of cloud computing to video games. Various gaming consoles like Nintendo’s Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, Microsoft’s Xbox One, and Sony’s PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita are still very much used today.

Related Posts