What Were the Earliest Video Games?

J. Beam

As with many inventions, the history of video games is somewhat disputed. Video games as we know them today can be traced back to the early 1950s. Ralph Baer, who some credit as the father of video games, was a television engineer who developed a concept for interactive television games in 1951. It would be a few years, however, before his visions were realized. In 1958 William Higginbotham developed the first interactive computer game called Tennis for Two.

Atari released the computer game Pong in 1972.
Atari released the computer game Pong in 1972.

Video games began to evolve into arcade style games and eventually home consoles. The earliest video games included Computer Space; which was the first coin-operated arcade game; Pong, which was the first mass produced video game; Gunfight; and Space Invaders, which was the first video game to display animated characters and high scores.

Many parents today share new versions of the video games they enjoyed as children with the next generation.
Many parents today share new versions of the video games they enjoyed as children with the next generation.

The earliest video games played at home were on the Atari Video Computer System (VCS 2600), which was released in 1977 and sold through Sears. In addition to Pong and Space Invaders, Atari's earliest video games were Breakout and Combat. Coin-operated arcade games were also quickly growing. The earliest video games found in arcades include Asteroids and Pac Man, which remains the most popular arcade game of all time.

One of the earliest video games to display a long-lasting video game character came in 1981 when Nintendo released Donkey Kong featuring Mario. Mario, the beloved plumber who was first intended to be a carpenter, has been featured at the center of dozens of video games through out time and still more are on tap. Other video games with long running popularity include the Final Fantasy series, Zelda, and Pokemon.

After nearly three decades, the advancement from the earliest video games to today's modern versions is phenomenal. Technological advancements that allow software developers to push the envelope have resulted in three major worldwide players: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Each company touts their own individual achievements in the gaming industry, but Nintendo holds the record for the best-selling video games of all time; for over 20 years, Super Mario Bros. held that honor, before being overtaken by Wii Sports in 2009.

Modern video games have much better graphics than early games.
Modern video games have much better graphics than early games.

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Discussion Comments


How can you possible discuss the earliest video games and not even mention the commodore pet, Vic20, and C64. At least mention that computer games were played from cassette decks.I normally love this site and find it very informative, but this article was the biggest disappointment by far.


I cannot remember the year, but had a BBC computer with one game called bat and ball. This was before the mouse was invented, and the bat was manipulated by the up and down keys. good fun. we thought it was marvelous. Bill K.


According Microsoft mogul, Bill Gates "the first interactive video was the Television show "WINKY DINK" from 1953-1957.

It was a half-hour children's show, with its adventure hero, WinkyDink. For 50 cents we sent off for a fun-feeling sheet of clear vinyl that stuck to the tv screen when we smoothed it over it with a tissue. Then used our WinkyDink crayons to trace special clues and drawing lines that were displayed on the tv screen, in segments, so that, as each screen displayed a new part, the lines we drew on our WinkyDink vinyl from the previous screen would combine to complete the picture or tell the message. Fun! The resultant figure or word was key to resolving the story and so the audience got to help "save the day"... for example: We'd draw a bridge over a river to provide escape for our hero from the bad guys and similar really helpful stuff. It was great good fun.

For the whole story, images and links just ask for 'Winky Dink and You' at Wikipedia.


Donkey Kong: Just finished watching a documentary called "The King Of Kong, A Fistful Of Quarters"

Steve Weibe, is now the new reigning champ!

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