Where would be without video games? It’s thanks to them that we have something to look forward to whenever we’re stuck at work. The thought of being able to plug into a virtual world for a few hours and unwind is what gets us through a long day, but where did it all start? Who do we have to thank for bringing video games into the world?
It’s not what you think
Ask most people what the first ever video game was and their answer will probably be “Pong.” Essentially tennis for those who hate the outdoors, “Pong” was the first commercially successful game to be launch around the world. There might not have been much to it – it was two lines hitting a dot back and forth – but it captivated audiences everywhere. This was brand new technology back then, and it sparked the question of what would come next.
However, while “Pong” is undoubtedly responsible for bringing gaming to public attention, it’s not technically the first video game ever made. That accolade goes to William Higinbotham and his creation that debuted 14 years earlier.
The first ever game
Before he was a video game designer, Higinbotham had gone down a somewhat unexpected career path. He started out as a physicist, and in the ‘40s became famous for helping build the first nuclear bomb. Thanks for that, William. Not too happy about creating a weapon of mass destruction, the man soon moved onto making things that weren’t quite so capable of taking thousands of lives. That’s how “Tennis for Two” came about.
Essentially a primitive version of “Pong” (because “Pong” is obviously so advanced), the game involved turning knobs and pressing buttons to simulate a game of tennis. It was performed on an oscilloscope and featured multiplayer functions, something that’s now an essential component in almost every video game. It wasn’t much, but Higinbotham’s creation shaped the future of gaming as we know it.
A forgotten relic
The reason why most people cite “Pong” as the first video game rather than “Tennis for Two” is mainly because everyone’s forgotten the latter exists. The game was demonstrated at a three-day exhibition in Brookhaven National Laboratory for two years before disappearing into the ether. It wasn’t for another decade that video games were brought back to public attention, by which point “Tennis for Two” was a relic of the past.
Although the game was nearly forgotten about completely, people were reminded about it several decades later when Higinbotham was involved in a legal dispute. The creators of the Magnavox Odyssey – the first home gaming console – were suing developers like Atari for supposedly copying their games. Considering “Tennis for Two” and “Pong” were very similar in design, the former physicist was brought in to testify. The matter was later settled out of court.
Well, there you have it. William Higinbotham was simultaneously responsible for creating one of the worst and one of the best creations the world has ever seen. If anyone ever tries to tell you that “Pong” was responsible for starting the trend of gaming, now you can correct them. “Tennis for Two” all the way!