In the late 1970s and early ’80s, the toy most coveted by kids was the Atari 2600 Video Computer System. While the graphics seem rudimentary by today’s near photo-realistic 3D gaming standards, when the VCS was released for Christmas of 1977, it was revolutionary to be able to interact with your TV set in such a way.
In fact, Atari set the whole video-game craze in motion with its 1972 coin-operated arcade game Pong. Even though Nutting Associates technically produced the first arcade computer game, 1971’s Computer Space, no one paid attention to this new form of entertainment until the game’s creator, Nolan Bushnell, formed a new company of his own called Atari and released Pong. During the arcade years that followed, Atari made several coin-operated hits: Breakout, Atari Football, Asteroids, Battlezone, Missile Command, Centipede, Dig Dug, Pole Position, Marble Madness, Gauntlet, and even Star Wars.
Atari also did not introduce the first home video-gaming console, but it did make the most successful one of the era. Kids would cram around TVs in rec rooms, fighting over the black joysticks with red fire buttons, playing games like Canyon Bomber, Adventure, Kaboom!, Superman, Spike’s Peak, Barnstorming, Yars’ Revenge, and Pitfall! Atari churned out hundreds of game cartridges, including some of popular coin-operated machine titles like its own Pong and Midway’s Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, as well as games based on movies.
At the height of its success in 1982, Atari introduced the new 5200 system. Even though the company was advertising its games during prime Saturday morning cartoon time, Atari now faced tough competition from the Commodore 64 and ColecoVision. Atari faded out of fashion by 1985, when the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was introduced.