What was the first game ever?
6 June 2022
It dates back to October 1958, what many consider to be the first real video game in history. The inventor was the American physicist William Higinbotham who at the time designed a video game capable of simulating a tennis match, similar to the classic video game of the 70s Pong. Combining his skills as an electronics technician and those acquired by working in the MIT Radiation Lab on CRT displays for radar systems, the project was a breeze for William. The scientist, head of the instrumentation team at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, thought of demonstrating to visitors the work done in the electronic field in the company. To make the tour more interactive and with the idea 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.” In just two months the whole game was developed. The instrumentation group had a small analog computer that could display various curves, including the path of a bouncing ball, on an oscilloscope. It took Higinbotham only a couple of hours to conceive the idea of a tennis game, and only a few days to put together the basic pieces. Having worked on displays for radar systems and many other electronic devices, Higinbotham had no trouble designing the simple game display.
How the game looked
Once the project was finalized and after a period of debugging with the help of technician Robert Dvorak, the first video game was launched on the market under the name Tennis for Two. Players could turn a knob to adjust the angle of the ball, and push a button to hit the ball towards the other player. As long as they pressed the button when the ball was in their court, players couldn’t actually miss the ball, but if they hit it at the wrong time or hit it at the wrong angle, the ball wouldn’t make it over the net. Balls that hit the ground would bounce like a real tennis ball. When the ball went off the court or into the net, players hit a reset button to start the next round. You couldn’t expect much on a graphic level as the cathode-ray tube display simply showed a side view of a tennis court represented by only two lines, one representing the ground and one representing the network. The ball was instead a simple white point that bounced from one side of the screen to the other. The score had to be kept by the players manually, since it could not be calculated by the machine. Visitors loved it. It quickly became the most popular exhibit, with people standing in long lines to get a chance to play.