As details about the seventh generation of video game consoles emerge, it makes you wonder how much more the medium can grow. However, look back at the first videogame ever made and you will see just how far we have come and, naturally, how much farther we can go.
Released on October 18, 1958, Tennis for Two was an incredibly simplistic simulation developed by nuclear physicist William Higinbotham for the purpose of entertaining visitors at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.
The game worked somewhat like a black-and-white television, using a cathode tube to emulate the experience of playing a tennis match. A small dot recreated the ball, and two players used individual controllers to smack it from one side of a line to the other.
The controllers had buttons and dials to control the angle of their hit, while updated versions even allowed for customizable gravity settings. Originally just less than half a foot in diameter, the game screen was eventually expanded to 17 inches.
Fittingly, perhaps, the design was laid out in just two hours, the necessary components were filled in a few days and lab technician Bob Dvorak assembled it in three weeks. Following two days of debugging and testing, the game was officially released.
Technically speaking, it was not actually utilizing video and therefore wasn’t an actual video game. However, it brought together two people to create a virtual simulation of a real-life sport, which makes it as much a video game as anything.
Predictably, there is some debate about whether this is indeed the first videogame ever made. Some say Tennis was preceded by the “Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device” while others argue in favor of the Nim computer, but the former required external paper inputs while the latter was designed to demonstrate computing power, not to entertain.
The simulation’s status as a video game even became a legal affair in the 1980s, when a company tried to use it against Magnavox, holders of the first videogame patent. It was then adjudged that Tennis For Two was not an official video game, because it did not technically use video.
However, for all intents and purposes, it brought two people together to play something that was really pretending to be something else and that’s what a video game is.
It’s not Pong, Space Invaders or Galaga, meaning it is not a famous ancestor of gaming. However, Tennis for Two shows us how far we have come in the last few decades and, if we are willing to continue, how much farther we can still go.