From the advent of the first computer games and arcade machines, millions of people across the world have been devoted to electronic gaming. Successive generations of machines and consoles — supporting games from PacMan all the way to Call of Duty — decorate a rich and creative history of gaming worldwide. This piece, aimed at those with a passion for gaming, and an interest in all things retro, takes a journey through the history of gaming, showing you where the consoles of today had their initial incarnations.
As long as there have been personal computers, there have been games to play on them. Some of the first computers, back in the 1960s, were actually used to compute moves in chess, which is an experiment in artificial minds and programming capabilities. Today, of course, computers have decisively beaten humans at chess and many other games of strategy and skill.
Some of the first games, like Frogger and Pong, were developed on these early computers. When they were sold to the mass market before the internet, these games were played against the computer itself, or as 2-player games. It’s in computers that we saw the first potential for gaming electronically, and when technology companies saw opportunities to build brands around electronic gaming.
Emerging at a similar time to computers, arcade machines spread across the world in the 1960s and 1970s, placed in popular public areas like bars and games halls for young people to play and socialise around. They were an instant hit. These machines featured the first Space Invaders game, different iterations of PacMan, and other retro games that we still love to play today. At the height of their popularity, millions of games were played on these machines each day.
The arcade machine was the first incarnation of the control panel for players. Used continuously throughout the year, manufacturers developed the first robust joysticks and buttons for electronic gaming, ensuring that their creations wouldn’t need repairing every month due to jabbing and prodding. Today, joysticks are incredibly advanced, but back then, they were built for resilience and simplicity, as consumers were only just getting used to controlling electronic characters on a screen.
The first consoles emerged over a decade later, with the Nintendo 64 being one of the stand-out innovations released in the mid-1990s. Consoles changed the course of gaming history, bringing the joy of the arcade into the privacy of the home, and laying the foundations for the kinds of gaming that we see today. Studios began working on games that would run on these different platforms, and amongst them were the first Mario games and the infamous James Bond Goldeneye game.
Over the next two decades, consoles were designed to become increasingly sought after and they were increasingly affordable for consumers across the economic spectrum. Many billions could be made from the creation of a popular game, and as such, increasingly more cash was invested in gaming software and the console hardware on which they would be played. Of course, the rise of the console saw a parallel rise of the hand-held controller, which is a stalwart in the gaming industry today.
We may look at today’s hand-held consoles — like the PSP and the Nintendo Switch — as recent innovations, but they, too, emerged in the 1990s. By far the most popular was the Game Boy, a fixture on the hands of many young children growing up around the turn of the century. With simple graphics and hundreds of games to take on long journeys and holidays, hand-held consoles once again changed the gaming landscape by putting these exciting toys in the hands of children on the move.
The rapid evolution of these devices has led us to today’s market, where HD screens support incredibly high-definition games, allowing people across the world to enjoy playing on the move.
The gaming industry is increasingly looking at the rise of VR and AR (augmented reality) as the new frontier of gaming. Some impressive innovations have already taken place in the space, including the Pokemon Go phenomenon, which swept the world in 2016, and more recently, the VR headsets that immerse people in the world of their favourite games.
While it appears that affordable and workable VR gaming experiences may still be some way off perfection, the road ahead is clear. Innovation is reaching fever pitch, as Sony and Microsoft compete to capture more of the gaming market and push gaming into a new era.
There you have it: a short history of gaming, from the early computers through to VR headsets and augmented reality experiences.