The Evolution of Gaming: It didn't start with Atari

The Evolution of Gaming: It didn't start with Atari

Computer Gaming – 1958 to 2019

When it comes to computer games, and looking at how they’ve changed, you first need to question your definition of a game. Whilst it seems like this has an obvious answer, the simple fact is that the variance in interactive electronic entertainment means that many people have formed very different views. Growing up in a world with graphics-driven games, requiring highly powerful consoles and computers, it is easy to forget the origins of the computer game itself. Due to its enormous commercial success, it is often Atari’s ‘Pong’ that is cited as being the first real entry in the market in 1972, however, this is not strictly true.

The real beginning of this form of entertainment takes us back to the latter half of 1958, when a rudimentary form of ‘Pong’ was created by a nuclear physicist, called William Higinbotham, in the Brookhaven National Laboratory to interest visitors. Whilst the popularity of the game was remarkable, it was thought of by the creator to be fairly uncreative. The game, then known as ‘Tennis For Two’, looked as though this was to be its first, and only, appearance as the first real console wouldn’t appear for over a decade. It was in the early 1970s that the first commercial games console was created but, even then, Atari still hadn’t entered the game (pun intended) yet, and it was Magnavox that decided that they would try to market this idea to the masses. In 1972 the Magnavox Odyssey was released, however it sold but a mere 350,000 units as it was later that year that the now industry giant that is Atari would begin to take the place of its short-lived competitor. Rather strangely, it was ‘Pong’ that made Atari the household name, the same game as on the Magnavox consoles, and the very similar ‘Tennis For Two’ that began the entertainment revolution.

The age of 8-bit computing, however, certainly did not end here; those same classic game franchises that are still popular today, such as Super Mario, Batman, and The Legend of Zelda, all had their roots in a very pixelated past, however with the advent of modern computing, and impressive consoles, you would be forgiven for thinking that the originals were simply relics of a somewhat forgotten past. This could not be further from the truth. As strange as it may seem, the following for 8-bit games is on the rise. For those who so desire, there are many emulators on computers and even phones that offer the experience of many old 8-bit games, along with some newer ones that people are still creating!

That said, I think that the majority of modern-day gamers are probably more interested in the titles that have been released with more of a pseudo-realistic experience. I say pseudo because games such as Star Wars Battlefront II and Black Mesa don’t have hugely realistic plot lines, however the visuals and physics are something to behold. There are also games, such as those in the Hitman and Grand Theft Auto franchises that have semi-realistic plots and stunning gameplay, but which you would definitely not want to experience in the flesh.

There are, however, some exceptions to the norm, there are some games that have very basic graphics and seem to look a little outdated, yet are consistently bigger commercial successes than more visually impressive titles; a fine example of this is Minecraft, a game originally created by a single computer gamer in 2011, which is now owned by Microsoft after they purchased it from Mojang for $2.5 billion. As an unashamedly avid fan of Minecraft myself, I can quite easily see how it has come to be the second most successful game ever sold, with almost 100 million players every month. Whilst I am sure most people will be aware, there are those have may not understand the concept of the game; in short, it is a sandbox game with many playing modes, allowing for single player and online play.

In short, the variance and change in computer games from their invention in 1958, to the most recent titles 61 years later, makes for a plethora of experiences, and the creation of an enormous infrastructure worldwide that has allowed players to interact with each other from the other side of the globe (or maybe just next door!). Personally, I believe that it is this relatively new idea of being able to play with people on the other side of the world that has allowed the modern-day computer game to evolve to the fantastical heights of popularity that it has today.

Photo by Kevin Bidwell from Pexels