The History of Video Games

A brief history of the evolution of video games from 1962 to 2015.

Space War: The First Video Game

In the early 1960's, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was one of the best centers for computer research. One of the computers Provided to MIT was the TX-0, which was under less restrictions then other computers and was publicly available to students. Eventually, a group of engineering students created a group entitled the Tech Model Railroad Club, or T.M.R.C., but referred to themselves as "hackers" Soon three of the members (Alan Kotok, Bob Saunders, and Peter Sampson) started creating simple computer programs like a tic-tac-program and a cat-and-mouse type program. When a new computer arrived at MIT, the PDP-1, the "hackers" decided to exploit the more powerful hardware by creating a program where two human-controlled spaceships attempted to destroy each other by firing torpedoes at one another. They eventually dubbed the program "Space War!", thus creating the first ever video game.

A photo of "Spacewar!" on the original computer it was created on!

Nolan Bushnell & Ralph Baer

In the mid-1960's, Nolan Bushnell played "Spacewar!" and wanted to make it available to the public. Meanwhile, Ralph Baer, an employee at Magnavox, also began to attempt to bring "Spacewar!" to the public, but in a different way. Bushnell wanted to make the game into a machine operated by coins, otherwise known as arcade games, while Baer wanted to make the game into a machine you could play in your home, now known as a home console. Bushnell had an idea to have a mini-computer inside a decorated cabinet, and a small TV screen so the players could see the game. He was able to release the game in the summer of 1971 as "Computer Space". Meanwhile, Baer finished working on his project he titled the "The Odyssey", which he was worked on in his spare time. When his higher-ups saw "The Odyssey", they were so impressed, they decided to commercialize and re-brand it as the "Magnavox Odyssey". It was released in 1972. While in different ways, Bushnell & Baer both wanted and succeeded in publicizing video games.

Bushnell's game, "Computer Space"

The Second Generation of Home Consoles

After the Magnavox Odyssey didn't sell well, (due to the fact that most people thought it would only be compatible on Magnavox TVs,) many companies were discouraged in making their own home consoles. Magnavox did release an Odyssey 2, but it was met with even worse sales. for years, if you wanted to play a video game, you had to go to an arcade. Until 1977 when a company named Atari, founded by Nolan Bushnell, decided to release the Video Computer System, later named as the 2600. (pronounced twenty-six-hundred.) The 2600 did amazingly well at the market, and ushered on an era commonly referred to "the golden age of video games". It was given this name because the industry was doing amazingly during this period, and many "classics" were made as well.

The Video Game Crash of 1983

Just when the video game industry was booming, in 1983, a game based on the hit movie E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was released in stores. It is widely regarded as the worst game ever made. (IGN, a video game review website, gave the game a rating of -_- out of 10.) This caused "the video game crash of 1983". During this period of time, very few people bought games anymore because E.T. was one of the best-selling games for the 2600. Many people thought video games were just a fad that had died out. But luckily, in 1985, Nintendo released the "Nintendo Entertainment System" (or NES) a home video game console packaged with two games. One of which was Super Mario Bros., which, to this day, is the fourth best-selling game of all time. This completely saved the entire industry. If it wasn't for the NES, video games wouldn't be what it was today.

The Console Wars

The Nintendo faced competition in 1990, with the Sega Genesis, which boasted better graphics and a faster processor. Nintendo retaliated with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or the SNES, later that year. This was regarded as the first "console war". in 1994, Nintendo started to work with Sony to develop the first 3D console, the PlayStation. However, only a week after announcing the project, Nintendo & Sony had a disagreement involving the revenue of the console and disbanded, but Sony continued. Nintendo also moved on and released the Nintendo 64, (or N64,) their own 3D console, in mid-1996. The PlayStation was released by Sony a few months later. Sega released their 3D console in late 1996 as well named the Sega Saturn. The Saturn did terrible financially. Then came the sixth console generation in 1998 with the Sega Dreamcast. It was followed by the PlayStation 2, which turned out to be the best selling console of the generation. Then Nintendo released the Nintendo GameCube, which alienated gamers with its' purple color and "lunchbox design". This made the permanent association with Nintendo and kid's games. In 2001, Microsoft joined the console wars with the Xbox. In 2002, Sega reorganized their company to a third-party, meaning they didn't make any systems, just games for pre-existing ones. This ended the "Nintendo vs. Sega Console Wars".


1. What computer was the first video game made on?

2. In what ways did Bushnell's and Baer's goals on publicizing video games differ?

3. Why do you think arcade games did well while home console games suffered?

4. What does the NES stand for?

5. Why do you think Sega switched from making games consoles to making games for consoles?

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