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.