If you peruse the usual scholarly timelines of video-game history, names in the sections devoted to the 1940s and ’50s usually include Thomas Goldsmith, Jr., Ralph Baer, A.S. Douglas, and Willy Higgenbotham. But we’re going to go out on a limb and give credit for the first video game as we think of it today to Martin Graetz, Stephen Russell, Wayne Wiitanen and a few other students at MIT, who designed and coded a game called Spacewar! on a Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) PDP-1 that had been donated to the esteemed Boston university. Russell conceived Spacewar! in 1961, and the game was fully functional by 1962. As recounted in “Hackers” and elsewhere, Spacewar! gave Russell and his fellow computer enthusiasts a platform upon which they could hone their skills. It was also a glorious time-waster, the hallmark of all video games to follow.
Still, the DEC PDP-1 cost about $120,000 new, which is why Ralph Baer is generally considered the real father of the video game. Baer began sketching schematics for a video game that could be played on a home television in 1966, had created his “Brown Box” prototype in 1967, and patented it the year after that. By 1972, Magnavox would release Baer’s games on its Odyssey system, the same year Nolan Bushnell installed his first Atari Pong machine in a Sunnyvale, California, tavern.