Blast From the Past
This would hardly be a worthy look at gaming, however, without a nod to just a few of the iconic games and events that shaped U.S. gaming culture. While there are a few games that began as early as the 1940s on the mammoth electronic machines of the day, many people date the beginning of public recreational gaming to 1972 with the introduction of “Pong.”
The following information comes from The Strong® National Museum of Play. Located in Rochester, New York, the museum is dedicated to the history and exploration of play in human development.
1972 – Atari’s “Pong”
Developed by Nolan Bushnell and Al Alcorn of Atari as an arcade table tennis game, they tested it in Andy Capps Tavern in Sunnyvale, California. Great at first, it quickly stopped working. The reason? People played it so much the quarters kept jamming the works. According to the museum, an arcade legend was born.
1975 – Atari’s “Pong Home Version”
Since Atari founder Bushnell couldn’t find any toy manufacturers interested in the home game, he sold the first units through the Sears Roebuck sporting goods department.
1977 – Atari’s “2600”
The joystick arrived with this unit which also included interchangeable cartridges, games in color and switches for selection of games and levels of difficulty. It turned millions of Americans into home video game players.
1978 – Taito’s “Space Invaders”
Its initial release in Japan caused a shortage of 100-yen coins. It hit the U.S. the next year and U.S. gamers spent millions of quarters trying to stop attacking aliens.
1980 – Namco’s “Pac-Man”
Namco employee Toru Iwatani created Pac-Man after looking at a pizza missing two slices. That same year a version of it for Atari 2600 became available and was the first arcade hit to be on a home console. Two years later “Ms. Pac-Man” became the best-selling arcade game of all time.
1981 – Nintendo’s “Donkey Kong”
“Donkey Kong” featured a character called Jumpman. You’ll recognize him today as Mario, the name he took when his creator, Shigeru Miyamoto made him the star of a later Nintendo game.
1987 – Fantasy Role Playing Games
Games featuring role play, like “Legend of Zelda,” “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Leisure Suit Larry” all hit the market this year.
1988 – “John Madden Football”
Incorporating football realism into a computer game made this and its many console sequels ongoing best sellers. It was the start of the sports and fitness games of the future.
1989 – Nintendo’s Game Boy
Game Boy made handheld gaming popular with its interchangeable cartridges, easy use and long battery life.
1990 – Microsoft “Solitaire”
Microsoft bundled the computer version of the classic card game with Windows 3.0 and attracted many new players. It became one of the most popular electronic games ever and a model for quick, easy-to-play casual games like Bejeweled.
1993 – “Mortal Kombat”
Concern over gaming bloodshed prompted hearings on video game violence and the creation of a game rating system. The game “Doom” ironically popularized “first person shooters” the same year.
1995 – Sony PlayStation
Sony first released PlayStation in the U.S. When PlayStation 2 debuted in 2000, it dominated the home console market.
1997 – IBM’s “Deep Blue”
IBM’s supercomputer chess program “Deep Blue” defeated world chess champ Gary Kasparov in a match.
2001 – Microsoft Xbox
The Microsoft Xbox and games like “Halo: Combat Evolved” hit the market this year and four years later grabbed millions of fans with Xbox 360 with its high definition realism and seamless online play.
2006 – Nintendo Wii
The Wii, with innovative motion-sensitive remotes made gaming more active and appealed to millions who had never before enjoyed video games.
2008 – “World of WarCraft”
Over 10 million subscribers worldwide made “World of WarCraft” the most popular massively multiplayer online (MMO) game.
2009 – Social and Mobile Games
Social games like “Farmville” and mobile games like “Angry Birds” shook up the gaming industry as former non-gamers spent hours on new platforms like Facebook and the iPhone.
2011 – “Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure”
This became the first augmented reality hit that let players place plastic figures on a Portal of Power to zap characters into the game.
2012 – Kickstarter
The advent of crowdfunding enabled game designers to raise millions to produce experimental play platforms like the OUYA console and the Oculus Rift.
2014 – Free-to-Play
This new business model enabled blockbuster games like “CrossFire,” “League of Legends” and “World of Tanks” to make hundreds of millions of dollars via micro-transaction payments for in-game items and premium content.
2016 –Nintendo’s “Pokémon GO” App
While not listed on The Strong’s timeline, few can forget the worldwide fun and chaos caused by people trying to capture the various Pokémon characters. Using the slogan, Get Up and Go, it quickly had 20 million downloads in the U.S., making it the biggest U.S. mobile game ever.
2017 – In addition to previewing its new Switch console, Nintendo has two new titles that appeal to sports and eSports fans – “ARMS” and “Splatoon 2.” An arcade-style boxing/fighting game, “ARMS” is being positioned with company favorites “Legend of Zelda” and “Breath of the Wild.” “Splatoon 2″ launches this summer as a much-improved version of its first launch but the hype on this one is as much about the new Switch console on which it’s played.
By Connie Wardman
Part three in a four part series on Video Gaming.