Who invented the video game?

Who invented the video game?Question from Malu Dias, São Paulo (SP) – Want to submit a question too? Click here.

It’s a tough game, Sao Paulo boy.

Several electronic games are vying for the post. One of the oldest is “Bertie, the Brain”, a tic-tac-toe simulator created by Canadian Joseph Cates in 1950.

The player challenged the machine in a game with different difficulty levels, which was created to demonstrate hardware technology at the Canadian National Exhibition and was forgotten after the event.

“Bert, the brain” demo

Image: Playback / Youtube

Another candidate for the father of the child is the American physicist William Higginbotham. In October 1958, he created the video game “Tennis for Two”, aesthetically similar to the classic “Pong” from the 1970s.

Although it came after the aforementioned Canadian game, “Tennis for Two” is considered one of the progenitor games, as it was one of the first to show on-screen movements that reflect real-time responses to player commands.

Higinbotham’s original intention was just to provide entertainment – something also pioneering, as previous games were developed to test or demonstrate devices and technologies – for visitors to the Brookhaven National Laboratory (US), where he worked.

Familiar with electronics – he even worked on nuclear bomb detonation timing systems and radar systems screens – he programmed a small tennis game in which the ball was a simple point, the players, the nets and the outline of the court just lines. The players had to count the points in their heads. Ah, all this on a 5 inch screen – what a man ahead of his time, ha!

Tennis for two - Reproduction/ Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) - Reproduction/ Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL)

Game “Tennis for two” on the small screen

Image: Reproduction/Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL)

Since there was nothing remotely interactive about the lab, the novelty was an instant success, creating queues among visitors.

The following year, excited by its popularity, Higginbotham expanded the screen and even programmed extras: it was possible to set the force of gravity in the game, simulating a tennis match on Earth, the Moon or Jupiter.

A year later, however, “Tennis for Two” retired and never returned. Higginbotham never patented the game and therefore never made any money from the invention. And perhaps even if it had that claim, in a world where the video game market didn’t even exist, the invention would likely be federally owned because the resources to develop it came from a national lab.

The game, and Higginbotham himself, were banished until 1982, when the story of their innovation was told in Creative Computing magazine.

If Joseph Cates created the electronic tic-tac-toe game and Higinbotham put movement and interaction into games, the person who brought the console into people’s homes was a German based in the US, Ralph Baer. In 1967, he created the Brown Box, the first portable device capable of running multiple games.

Ralph Baer Brown Box - Philip Stephan/ Wikimedia Commons - Philip Stephan/ Wikimedia Commons

Brown Box by Ralph Baer

Image: Philip Stephan/Wikimedia Commons

Unlike Higginbotham, Baer patented his technology, which was acquired by Magnavox and spawned Odyssey, the first home video game ever, in 1972. The rest is history, dear gamer from São Paulo.

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