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About this Article
Written by: Joseph Hogue
Written on: May 1st, 2001
Tags: electrical engineering, entertainment, computer science
Thumbnail by: Pargon/Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
In Spring 2002, Joseph Hogue was a sophomore studying computer science at USC with an interest in all aspects of gaming, including programming, graphics, design, sound, and, of course, user testing.
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Volume III Issue I > Founding Fathers of Video Games
The video game industry has a world wide sphere of influence. Whether you are hanging out at home with your friends playing the newest FIFA soccer game, communicating over headset with someone around the world to team up and take down an enemy, or in line at the grocery store playing Angry Birds, your gaming experience can be attributed to the work of numerous engineers in the past few decades. Despite simple beginnings, technology has evolved to include motion sensing, hand-held devices, multi-player options, and more realistic graphics, and this technology is constantly changing and improving each day.
What was your first video game experience? Perhaps it was Pac-Man at a local hangout, or Super Mario Brothers and Tetris at a friend's house. What were the beginnings of video games?
Today's multi billion dollar video gaming industry has its origins in the work of four engineers. Here, we trace the individual contributions that each made to the early development of games and game technology, beginning from an obscure, interactive physics game to the widely popular Pong.

The First Video Game: William Higinbotham

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Figure 1: The table tennis contraption created by Higinbotham and his team at Brookhaven National Laboratories.
The first reported video game was presented at a demonstration to visitors touring Brookhaven National Laboratories in 1958. Consisting of a five inch oscilloscope display connected to a Donner analog computer, the contraption was hard coded to play table tennis see Fig. 1. The machine itself relied on mechanical relays for much of its internal functions, such as making the ball bounce off the floor and paddles. When a ball bounced or was struck, the contraption would emit a satisfying click as relays snapped open or closed. Two players would control the direction and timing of the swing with an analog dial and switch cased together in a rather large controller.
The rudimentary display consisted of two lines and a dot drawn on the oscilloscope. One line ran the width of the screen and represented the court, while the other branched upward from the middle for the net. The dot represented the ball and would bounce realistically off the ground and randomly off of the net. When the ball left play, a reset button would return the game to its initial state.
This machine was the brainchild of William Higinbotham, a physicist at Brookhaven. Assisted by a fellow scientist Robert V. Dvorak, he constructed it over three weeks to demonstrate that computers, while able to perform complex mathematical operations, could also have a more enjoyable side.
This was the extent of Higinbotham's exploration into video games. The machine was eventually dismantled and salvaged for parts. Higinbotham never patented any aspect of his game (although he holds about 20 other patents), since at the time the technology was not practical enough for commercial use [1]. Few knew of the contraption, until it was found by Nintendo in 1985 and presented in a lawsuit [2]. The ideas Higinbotham presented, however, sparked the imaginations of those who played.