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Early history of video games


Early history of video games

Part of a series on:
History of video games

The early history of video games dates back to 1948, with a missile simulator which uses analog circuitry.[1]


Alan Turing and colleague D. G. Champernowne wrote a chess playing algorithm. At the time, there was not a computer powerful enough to run the algorithm. The algorithm was tested two times by human versus algorithm matches. The algorithm won once and lost once.[2]


Claude Shannon devised a chess playing program that appeared in the paper "Programming a Computer for Playing Chess" published in Philosophical Magazine. This was the first article on the problem of computer chess, published before anyone had programmed a computer to play chess.


  • On May 5, 1951, the NIMROD computer was presented at the Science Museum (London) during the Festival of Britain. Using a panel of lights for its display, it was designed exclusively to play the game of NIM; this was the first instance of a digital computer designed specifically to play a game.[3] NIMROD could play either the traditional or "reverse" form of the game.
  • TV engineer named Ralph Baer was asked by the chief engineer at Loral to build "the best television set in the world". Baer came up with an idea for playing games on the television set, but the idea was turned down.
  • In November 1951, Dr. Dietrich Prinz wrote the original chess playing program for the Manchester Ferranti computer.


  • In 1952, one of the first video games ever made, OXO (also known as Noughts and Crosses) by A. S. Douglas. OXO was written for the EDSAC computer. The game was a Tic-tac-toe based game, played against the computer, and although OXO never gained any real popularity, because the EDSAC was available only at Cambridge, it was still a milestone in the history of video games.
  • Christopher S. Strachey created a program on the Ferranti machine which, by the summer of 1952, "could play a complete game of draughts (checkers) at a reasonable speed". Arthur Samuel built on his work to make a checkers-playing program for the IBM 701, which ran at the end of the year.


Tennis for Two was a computer game developed in 1958 on an oscilloscope which simulated a game of tennis or ping pong. It was created by William Higinbotham. Unlike Pong and similar early games, Tennis for Two shows a simplified tennis court from the side instead of a top-down perspective. The ball is affected by gravity and must be played over the net. The game was controlled by an analog computer and "consisted mostly of resistors, capacitors and relays, but where fast switching was needed – when the ball was in play – transistor switches were used".


In 1959, a collection of interactive graphical programs were created on the TX-0 machine at MIT:

  • Mouse in the Maze: which allowed users to place maze walls, bits of cheese, and (in some versions) glasses of martini by way of a light pen interacting with the screen. One could then release the mouse and watch it traverse the maze to find the goodies.
  • Tic-Tac-Toe: Using the light pen, the user could play a simple game of naughts and crosses against the computer.


A DEC memo M-1098 from March 31, 1961 references a Kalah game playing program developed for the PDP-1, which later became DEC program No. 56 for the PDP-1. The attributed author is Roland Silver.[4][5]


  • Later, a program called Expensive Planetarium (referring to the price of the PDP-1 computer) was incorporated into the main code, replacing the randomly generated star field. The program was based on real star charts that scrolled slowly: at any one time, 45% of the night sky was visible, showing every star down to the fifth magnitude.
  • A number of games can be found available for purchase in an April 1962 IBM program catalog.[6]
Name Programmer(s)
BBC Vik The Baseball Demonstrator Jack and Paul Burgeson
Blackjack Game (tape) A. J. Lang
Blackjack Demonstration (card) Karl E. Hitt
Checker Demonstration Program Unknown
Simulation of a One-Armed Bandit Dick Conner
Three Dimensional Tic-Tack-Toe H. F. Smith Jr.


Wallace Feurzeig at BBN (Bolt Beranek and Newman) developed for the PDP-1, a question and answer game, the Socratic System, designed to teach medical students how to diagnose patients. This game was based off an earlier game, The Alphabet Guessing Game, by Judith Harris of BBN.[7]


  • Edward Steinberger wrote a dice game for the PDP-5.[8]
  • Baseball simulation game written in BASIC by John Kemeny and later edited by Keith Bellairs on January 13, 1965.[9]


Larry Bethurum, from the Phillips Exter Academy, submitted the BASIC source code of a bingo game to the DECUS user group. Comments in the code suggest the game was written on January 23, 1966.[10]


  • First basketball simulation game written in BASIC by Charles R. Bacheller in May 1967.[11]
  • A baseball game that simulates the 1967 World Series written in BASIC by Jacob Bergmann in August 1967.[12]



A number of games programmed in BASIC can be found in the DECUS library back-up tapes. Most games do not include the name of the programmer or the date the program was written.[13]

Name Description Programmer(s) Archived Date
1queen.gam Plays a game based on chess moves Unknown 9/2/70
apawam.gam Plays a round of golf at the apawamis country club Unknown 9/2/70
bandit.gam The computer is a slot machine and you are the player Unknown 9/21/70
batnum.gam Battle of numbers between user and computer Unknown 9/21/70
bridge.gam Bridge practice session Unknown 9/21/70
craps.gam A session at the craps table Unknown 9/21/70
digits.gam Guesses a sequence of numbers Unknown 9/2/70
ftball.gam Generates a digital championship football game John G. Kemeny 9/21/70
gamnin.gam Plays game of Nim Unknown 9/2/70
hangmn.gam Plays hangman Unknown 9/21/70
horserac.gam A day at the races at South Portland High Laurie Chevalier 9/2/70
learn1.gam Learns to play a game of "21" Unknown 9/2/70
nim.dem Plays the ancient game of Nim Unknown 9/2/70
qubic.gam Plays 3-dimensional Tic Tac Toe Mark Soelman 9/21/70
roulet.gam Generates game of Roulette Unknown 9/2/70
tictac.gam Plays game of tic-tac-toe Unknown 9/2/70
war.gam Plays the card game of war Unknown 9/21/70


See also

  • First video game - which game receives this honor is hotly disputed among video game historians


  1. ^ Pong Story: Main Page
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Nimrod Game Computer
  4. ^ "Kalah game". 
  5. ^ "Kalah game author". 
  6. ^ "IBM Program Catelog 1962 author". 
  7. ^ "Guessing Games". 
  8. ^ "Dice Game". 
  9. ^ "basbal.dem". 
  10. ^ "bingo.gam". 
  11. ^ "bskbal.gam". 
  12. ^ "baseba.gam". baseba.gam. 
  13. ^ "decuslib10-01". 
  14. ^ Stahl, Ted (ed.) (2005). "Chronology of the History of Video Games / Golden Age". The History of Computing Project. Retrieved 15 February 2006. 
  15. ^ a b "The Galaxy Game". Computer History Exhibits. 2006. Retrieved 26 August 2006. 
  16. ^ a b Hunter, William (2005). "Player 1 Stage 1: Bits From the Primordial Ooze". The Dot Eaters. Retrieved 24 August 2006. 
  17. ^ "Namco History (English summary)". NAMCO WonderPage. 2001. Archived from the original on 10 January 2006. Retrieved 15 February 2006. 
  18. ^ GameSpot Editorial Team (2004). "The Greatest Games of All Time / Jimmy Has Dysentery". GameSpot. Retrieved 15 February 2006. 
  19. ^ "Conclusion". Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping, and Playtesting Games. Retrieved 15 February 2006. 
  20. ^ Markowitz, Maury (2000). "Star Trek: To boldly go... and then spawn a million offshoots". Games of Fame. Archived from the original on 9 February 2006. Retrieved 15 February 2006. 
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