What was the First Video Game in the world history?

Looking closely at the oscilloscope, you what function the picture has for a lab. But it doesn’t have a function for utility — it had a function for pleasure.

It was called Tennis For Two, the first video game in history. If you look closely, you’ll see the gold and green in the oscillograph that resembles a tennis court. The game was created in 1958 and was extremely simple, as you’d expect from the first video game in human history. It was a tennis game similar to the 1970s video game, Pong, and became a hit at the Brookhaven National Laboratory open house.

The game was created in October 1958 by physicist William Higinbotham, who created the game because he thought the exhibits at the lab were pretty dull. He wanted to capture visitors’ interests by creating an interactive demonstration, later telling reporters that:

“It might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society.”

Higinbotham himself was a very accomplished physicist. He graduated from Williams College in 1932, and then went to Cornell University for graduate school in Physics. He would graduate with a PhD and work at Cornell as an electronics technician. In 1941, he joined the MIT Radiation Lab, creating cathode ray tube displays for radar displays.

In 1943, Higinbotham started working on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, as head of the electronics division from 1943 to 1945. He then would move to work at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), where he would research peaceful uses of atomic power. At the BNL, he worked as the head of the instrumentation group from 1951 to 1968.

Every October, BNL would have annual visitors’ days where thousands of people would come tour the lab, and Higinbotham had to create the exhibit. He decided to include a small analog computer that would display curves and the path of a bouncing ball on an oscilloscope.

You would think that creating the first video game in history would take a long time. However, for Higinbotham, it only took a couple of hours to come up with the idea of the tennis game, and then a couple of days to put it together.

He had worked on radar systems and electronic devices his whole life. It was no problem for him designing the simple display.

Another technician, Robert Dvorak, would spend a couple weeks building the device from Higinbotham’s blueprints. They debugged the game a little bit, and then it was ready. It would be called Tennis for Two.

The game simply involved players adjusting a knob to alter the angle of the ball, and then pushing a button to hit it to another player. They couldn’t miss the ball as long as they pressed the button when it was on their side of the net, but if they angled it poorly, it could hit the net or be out of bounds.

There was nothing fancy about the game, and the graphics simply had a cathode ray tube display that had two lines, one representing the ground, and another representing the net. The ball was just a dot.

Players couldn’t even keep score. They had to do that themselves. The circuitry of the game involved resistors, capacitors, and relays, and it used some transistors for fast switching, especially when the ball was in play.

The game would be a hit

Tennis For Two would be the most popular exhibit at BNL that year. People stood in long lines to play the game.

Since the game was so small, Higinbotham decided to improve it the next year with a larger display. He also added a feature that the game could feature stronger or weaker gravity so visitors could play tennis on various planets, or the moon.

The game would only last for two years and the oscilloscope would be used for other things. Higinbotham himself would move onto other projects. He didn’t really think the tennis game was particularly impressive or revolutionary, but history would say otherwise.

“It never occurred to me that I was doing anything very exciting. The long line of people I though was not because this was so great but because all the rest of the things were so dull,” Higinbotham said.

He had already patented 20 inventions, and wouldn’t have had the rights to the game since he worked at a government lab. He made a total of $0 off the first video game in human history.

Higinbotham could care less about video games in his career. Sanders Associates, a defense contractor in Nashua, New Hampshire, would receive the first patent for a video game. Magnavox, an electronics company that is now a subsidiary of Phillips, would buy the patent in the 1970s. People only discovered that Higinbotham invented the video game when he was called to testify to try to break Magnavox out of the patent.

His interest would be in nuclear weapons, not video games. After all, he worked on the Manhattan Project, and later found the Federation of American Scientists as its first chairman.

“Higinbotham died in November 1994, more famous for his video game than his work on nonproliferation,” wrote the American Physcial Society in 2008.

All of us gaming lovers today, however, have Higinbotham to thank for creating the video game, even if he never saw it as his greatest success.

Source : Medium

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