The video game industry was born during World War II (WW2). The first games were created as a form of escapism by the early programmers employed on military bases and at research establishments. From these beginnings, these games have evolved from being a reflection on the times (WW2 and the Space Race) and played only by programmers. They have now become accessible to the general public through the use of video arcade machines, home consoles and home computers. This broad accessibility has allowed the industry to become mainstream and to compete with movies as a new form of interactive entertainment and to exercise its own influence on modern culture. By the 1970s and early 1980s, the industry had grown sufficiently to begin experiencing its own boom and bust business cycles. The video game crash of 1983 was brought about by the saturation of the market with poor quality games and consoles. The crash also coincided with a boom in the home computer industry. It was not until 1985 with the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System did the industry recover.
Why – Reflection on times
Video games were initially developed to reflect the events of the world at that time. In the middle of the Cold War, the world was focussed on the race for space. In the early 1960s, programmer Steve Russell launched video game “Spacewar”. The game was a direct expression of the Space Race and the global fears of space war. It was a form of escapism from such fears. The coding instructions for the game were passed from programmer to programmer and soon any institution with a PDP-1 computer inevitably acquired a version of “Spacewar”.
Why – mainstream entertainment
Video games found its place as an entertainment medium with the release of the first home console system (Magnavox Odyssey) and the success of “Pong” on the Atari video arcade system in the early 1970s. “Pong” was the first successful video game and showed for the first time that video games could compete with movies as a form of entertainment. The introduction of the first home console and the first successful video arcade system combined with the counter-culture movements in the 1960s and 1970s to create innovative and fun games. Video games were now also available to the public through a variety of platforms – video arcade systems, home consoles and soon home computers.
Technology – early computers
The computers that were used to develop the very first video games were originally intended for mathematical calculations and breaking enemy codes in WW2. These computers included the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC), the Donner Model 3 Analogue computer, and the PDP-1 Computer. Though the video games that were developed on these computers were not widely available outside the military and scientific research establishments, it was being realised that computers had another purpose beyond military computations.
|Year of Release||Game||Computer Type||Developer|
|1952||“OXO” (Noughts and Crosses)||EDSAC||Alexander Douglas|
|1958||“Tennis-for-Two”||Donner Model 3||William Higginbotham|
Distribution of these early games was limited to the machines they were developed on. “Spacewar” was the earliest game intended to be accessible to the public. The “public” at that time was still somewhat limited – programmers with the skills to input the game code, as pre-packaged games were not yet available. Games like “Spacewar” opened the door into the gaming industry for a wider audience
Technology – video arcade systems
Video arcade systems became popular with the release of “Pong” by Atari in 1972. “Pong” was the first commercially successful video arcade system and it has been credited with popularising the video game industry. In contrast to the earlier games, a programmer was not needed to re-type the code into a computer; the arcade game pre-packaged games onto an easily playable device for mass distribution. In 1978, “Space Invaders” entered the Japanese market as an arcade game becoming very popular with teenagers. The game demonstrated advances in the sound and audio of video games and it saw businesses transform their stores into arcades overnight. Arcade machines became prevalent in mainstream locations such as shopping malls, traditional storefronts, restaurants and convenience stores.
Technology – home consoles
The release of the Magnavox Odyssey and the Atari home console systems in the 1970s brought video games into the homes of the general public. In contrast to earlier games, from the 1970s games became he first form of entertainment that could be played on a regular television set.
The home console market crashed in 1977 and again in 1983 due to the flooding of poorly made consoles and low quality games. In addition, this period coincided with the growth in popularity of home computers, which revolutionised the home gaming market (refer to the next section). The crash of 1983 also led to the bankruptcy of many home console and game manufacturers, including Atari.
The market recovered in 1985 with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). NES was able to implement new measures to ensure their survival in the industry. This included the “Seal of Quality” which ensured that third party developers could not release games for the NES without passing their stringent quality tests.
Technology – home computers
The first home/personal computers entered the market in 1977. They were marketed to consumers as affordable and accessible computers that for the first time were intended for the use of a single non-technical user. Computer gaming reached mainstream popularity following the video game crash of 1983. At the time computers were being purchased for other purposes such as word processing and accounting. In contrast to consoles and arcade systems, a wide variety of applications (including games) could be installed on a home/personal computer. The appearance of a new game did not mean that the whole device (i.e. the computer) had to be discarded, at great expense and inconvenience to the owner. Computers also had the advantage that gaming enthusiasts could develop their own games and allow other users to play it by giving them the gaming code details or distributing it via a floppy disc (the “bedroom coder”). Computer games at this time generally provided better quality graphics and were much faster than video game consoles.
Culture – effect on culture
The video gaming industry has influenced our culture from social, entertainment and political perspectives. There was a time in the 1980s when video gaming was a pastime largely restricted to computer programmers, but as those computer programmers of the 1980s have aged they have continued their passion for video gaming and demanded more from the industry. These changes coincided with an increased interest by children and women to play video games. Video games have also influenced the entertainment industry. The industry can compete with movies and offer something that movies cannot, an interactive experience. In response to video games becoming mainstream, western governments have had to react by legislating new classification guidelines following complaints from parents that violent games were affecting their children’s behaviour.
The video gaming industry has evolved from games accessible only on military or university computers in the 1950s, to being playable in the 1980s on TV sets in suburban family rooms. The video game crash of 1983 led to a number of positive changes in the industry, which have become more apparent with successive decades. Today, gamers can play video games on the internet, the personal computer, the home console, the portable handheld device and now (in the 21st Century) on the Smartphone. Video games provide a new social platform and interactive entertainment experience, which in turn has required governments to acknowledge and regulate what is now a mainstream industry. The video gaming industry has changed our culture and how we interact with people.
 “The 30 Defining Moments in Gaming”. Edge. Future plc. August 13, 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-18.