A Slightly Longer But Still Incomplete History of Video Games
An expanded version of the timeline in the Open World Learning Gallery
The Nimrod computer is custom built in the United Kingdom as an exhibition piece to play Nim, a strategy game in which players avoid taking the last piece as they remove objects from piles.
Alexander S. Douglas creates OXO, often cited as the first true computer game, to play Tic-Tac-Toe. The first digital graphical simulation game, OXO runs on the EDSAC Computer at Cambridge, which used a cathode-ray tube as a visual display for programs in one of the world's first “stored-program" computers.
Computers exist mostly in university and military labs. Some very early electronic games start the ball rolling on what is now a multi-billion dollar industry.
Inspired by sci-fi literature, the combat video game Spacewar! is developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). One of the first video games not based on pre-existing tabletop or other style games, Spacewar! features two players commanding space vessels. Extremely popular in the small programming community, it becomes one of the first games to be copied and modified. Spacewar! directly inspires many other video games, like early commercial arcade games and later games like Asteroids (1979).
Ralph Baer develops a prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system that could work with a standard television set, known as the Brown Box. It earns him the title “father of video game consoles.”
Video games go public as arcades are born, providing a gathering place for early gamers, particularly teenagers and young adults.
Atari is founded (1972). Pong is released (1972). Baer’s Brown Box is licensed to Magnavox and released as the Magnavox Odyssey.
The Atari 2600, originally known as the Atari VCS, is released. It and other consoles help push video gaming into the home.
The Intel Microprocessor makes it possible for the whole arcade game PONG to fit on one semiconductor chip.
Space Invaders (1978) sets the model for shooting games.
Mattel, Coleco, Commodore, Atari, Sega and Nintendo consoles pour into homes. Players build game libraries using cartridges and floppy disks.
In games like Toru Iwatani’s Pac-Man (Namco, 1980) and Donkey Kong (Nintendo, 1981), storytelling elements and color graphics begin to improve.
Home computers become another platform for gaming. Early games like Oregon Trail (1971) and Zork! (1980) start appearing on computers at school and work. Storytelling games, such as Ultima (1981), continue to move video games from arcades to personal computers.
The continued fears tied to Cold War culture in the United States are reflected in films, literature and the video games of the 1980s, like Atari Missile Command (1980) and Battlezone (1980).
The North American video game industry crashes. An oversaturated console market, competition from home computer games and a surplus of over-hyped, low-quality games (such as Atari’s E.T., often considered the worst game ever created) contribute to the massive decline.
Recovery begins when the Japanese-created Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) comes to the United States, featuring improved 8-bit graphics, colors, sound and gameplay. The NES’ popularity and commercial success surpass any previous game console.
Nintendo debuts the Game Boy (often bundled with Tetris), again changing where and how games were played. The affordability and convenience of handheld games nearly put the console and arcade games out of business!
Graphics, music and storytelling become more complex as computing power increases.
The next generation of home consoles is released, including the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (1990).
Many popular “original” games, like Super Mario World (Nintendo, 1990) and Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog (1991), get an update.
Street Fighter II debuts (1991), establishing many of the conventions of the one-on-one fighting genre.
Game evolution continues with CD data storage.
Another generation of consoles is released: PlayStation (1994), Sega Saturn (1994) and Nintendo 64 (1996).
In response to edgier content aimed at a more mature audience, Congress holds hearings on video game violence. Entertainment Software Rating Board and game ratings were born.
Myst is released.
Nintendo releases Virtual Boy, the first virtual reality headset available to the mass market. Unfortunately the system was awkward to use and caused eyestrain and is considered one of Nintendo’s greatest commercial failures.
Cinematic qualities emerge: filmed actors, 3-D modeled animation, multiple “camera angles” and cut scenes. Grand Theft Auto (1997, Rockstar Games) cashes in on the advances.
Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs), like Everquest (1999) gain popularity. Vibrant social communities begin to form.
Established game companies, like Electronic Arts, are often referred to as AAA (“triple A”). The term is borrowed from the credit industry's bond ratings, where AAA bonds identify the safest investment most likely to meet financial goals. AAA companies invest millions of dollars and years of work in best-selling games, so they’re less and less likely to risk experimental formats or storylines.
Technical and economic factors make independent games less expensive, so smaller, indie game designers fill the niches left by AAA companies. Indie games build on folktales, explore issues like depression and center characters with historically marginalized identities. Video games expand beyond entertainment into education, health care, business and more.
MMOGs explode as World of Warcraft takes the screen.
Players control games by moving their bodies with the Nintendo Wii. People who aren’t “gamers” enter the market.
The wildly popular Angry Birds opens games to anyone with a smartphone.
E-sports explode. Professionals compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money.
Oculus Rift hardware is released as the first consumer-ready VR product. Its success encourages other VR innovations and games.
Still one of the most popular augmented reality (AR) games, Pokemon Go is released. The mobile app brings games to life by adding characters from the game into the image of the world around you.
The film Ready Player One, based on the 2011 book by Ernest Cline, builds interest in the yet-realized Metaverse concept. The Metaverse is used to describe a virtual space that links digital environments like online games, social media and virtual reality.