ByKen McDonnell, writer at
Now Loading's sentimental Irishman. I can't stop playing Overwatch, please send help.
Ken McDonnell

What's the earliest video game you remember playing? Crash Bandicoot? Super Smash Bros.? Metroid? The Legend of Zelda? Maybe even ?! If the answer is yes to any of these, your gaming experience started decades after the world was introduced to the concept of a video game.

Though it's not a very complicated title by design, the introduction to interactive entertainment started a tradition that has taken the world by storm. Where would we all be without ? Certainly not on this website... They're our passion, favorite hobby and greatest time consumer. So let's celebrate that history with...

'Tennis For Two': The World's First Video Game

That's a lot of wires.
That's a lot of wires.

What many reference as the first video game in existence was created by physicist William Higinbotham (dat name tho) in October of 1958. Simplistic in nature, Tennis For Two is most easily compared with the highly popular Pong from 1972.

The two player experience saw a ball bounce back and forth over a tiny net in the middle of the monitor, provided the players could line up their paddle just right to return a serve. You moved your paddle up and down the monitor with a dial and had to push a button to hit the ball back towards the other player. As long as they pressed the button when the ball was in their court, players couldn’t actually miss the ball, but if they hit it at the wrong time or hit it at the wrong angle, the ball wouldn’t make it over the net.

The game actually employed a kind of physics, too, seeing the ball bounce once it hit the ground like a real tennis ball. Additionally a reset button was there in case the ball went out or you simply wanted to start a new round.

Tennis For Two in action.
Tennis For Two in action.

As you can see from the dials on the side of the device, players had the ability to adjust a number of settings in order to make the projection clearer. And though it looks fairly rudimentary to modern gamers, the notion of being able to control a computerized ball was remarkable to '50s folk! The little game was quite a success.

Boasting a remarkable following after being shown off at a Brookhaven National Laboratory open house, the complicated little machine already demonstrated how video games could be fun, addictive and bring people together. Set quite the precedent, so it did.

But where did this guy get the idea? How does someone come up with the concept of a video game?

How The First Game Was Created

Higinbotham loved creating exhibits in order to educate people about the world of science. However, most of them were allegedly pretty dull—you wouldn't think to look at him would ya? Looks like the life of the party! So, in order to combat the bouts of boredom that plagued exhibition visitors, Higinbotham decided to involve people in the exhibits.

He later recalled in a magazine interview that he had thought “it might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society.”

That's some solid thinking there, William.

Not related to Tennis For Two, but a wonderful 1950s image.
Not related to Tennis For Two, but a wonderful 1950s image.

Once the idea that an interactive computer game would be used in a future exhibit was formed, it took Higinbotham only a couple of hours to conceive the idea of a tennis game. The instrumentation group that he was working with were in the possession of a small analog computer that could display a variety of curves on an oscilloscope. Having had experience with radar systems and other electronic devices in the past, Higinbotham fashioned together the game's display with apparent ease.

With Higinbotham drawing up the designs of the game, and technician, Robert Dvorak, constructing the device, the first video game was constructed within a two week period. Allegedly they ran into some bugs while developing Tennis For Two, so glitches and bugs have been a part of the industry since the beginning!

Visitors loved it. It quickly became the most popular exhibit, with people standing in long lines to get a chance to play. - APS

Bit of 1950s tennis.
Bit of 1950s tennis.

The first version of Tennis For Two was built with a tiny display, only five inches in diameter. Therefore, due to its popularity, Higinbotham returned to the visitor's day next year with an improved version of the game and a bigger display. Not only could you see what you were up to a lot clearer, the game could now simulate different forms of gravity, enabling you to play on Earth, the Moon or Jupiter.

Sadly, though the game was very popular, Higinbotham failed to realize what he had created. He failed to patent video games and ultimately lacked the foresight in predicting how popular they'd become.

“It never occurred to me that I was doing anything very exciting. The long line of people I though was not because this was so great but because all the rest of the things were so dull,” he once said.

Therefore, Tennis For Two was more or less forgotten two years after its invention. Video games weren't patented until 1964 by Sanders Associates, though the industry wouldn't take off until the '70s. You could say that Higinbotham really dropped the ball on this one. But that would probably result in audible groans from all the readers. Oh well, too late now.

So there's a bit of history for you! Amazing how far these beautiful things have come, isn't it?

A big fan of video games? Let us know what you think of this invention in the comments below! Also, why not check out how much games have changed since (and how they lie) in the video below:


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