Washington Evening Journal
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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 31, 2014

The birth of video games

By David Hotle | Nov 29, 2011

I think I was on my way back from Florida with my parents when I first experienced a video game called ‘Pong’ in an airport. My grade school-age mind was immediately fascinated by the desktop game that used lights to simulate the playing of tennis.

Of course right now many people are busy checking out the real time imaging coming over the cell phone they keep in their pockets or playing the latest iPhone game apps that are just shy of virtual reality in a package smaller than a paperback book. Maybe ‘Pong’ hasn’t stood the test of time, but we do have to give a tip of the hat to where our modern video games and many computer applications came from.

On Nov. 29, 1972, ‘Pong’ was officially released as the first commercially successful arcade video game. The fledgling Atari Corporation fist manufactured the game. The game was based on a pingpong game that was released with the Magnavox Odyssey. In fact, it was so inspired that Magnavox later filed a lawsuit against Atari and Atari was forced to pay Magnavox a licensing fee.

Still, you have to admire the entrepreneurial spirit. The first “Pong” game released in a Sunnyvale, Calif. tavern on that day exactly 39 years ago was built from a black and white television bought at Walgreen’s, special game hardware, a coin mechanism salvaged from a Laundromat and a milk carton inside to catch the coins. Within a few days, inventors Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney knew they had a hit on their hands. They had to make repairs when the coin collector filled to overflowing, shorting out the game. When they came to the tavern to make repairs the next morning, people had already lined up outside to wait their turn to play the game. Bushnell and Dabney formed the Atari Corporation (defunct since 1984) to release the game.

That is where the video game got its start. It seems kind of appropriate that the birthday of the video game and probably the concept of a video arcade should come between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I would hate to speculate on all the improvements that have been made in computer technology that could be linked back to video games (improved video and audio cards come to mind). Ironically, improvements in personal computers were part of a decline experienced by video game manufacturers in the mid-1980s. This decline resulted in the death of Atari.

When you look at video games of today, which are very much like interactive movies, it is hard to imagine that they came from a device that used the simple movement of white pixels on a black screen to create a game. Today, the programming of ‘Pong’ is a very basic exercise for novice computer game programmers.

So in the season of Black Friday, while glassy-eyed holiday shoppers in California are out rioting and pepper-spraying each other to get the limited release of the latest video games, we should take a moment to remember where it all started. We may have come a long way from a little dot moving back and forth across a screen, but if it hadn’t been for that dot, we may have been reduced to actually having to go to a tennis court and physically play the game for real.

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