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Friday, July 2, 2010

The Cold War—HALO’s daddy.

Aka, Bridgeport, Connecticut—the home of video games.

Conventional wisdom pegs Pong as the first video game, except it wasn’t. As is the case with most inventions, the developer of the final version got the credit. That would be Nolan Bushnell, who would later create Chuck E. Cheese. Except William (Willy) A. Higinbotham, a physicist born in Bridgeport who would later go on to work on the atomic bomb, actually developed the first version of pong based on the game of tennis. (The other game that would be the precursor to asteroids was called Spacewar!, in action here.) About :30 seconds in captures the real spirit behind the creation of games:

“It was an expression of a kind of rebellious adolescent energy working alongside the military project, taking this most expensive piece of equipment at the time and repurposing it for games.”

Watch the clip less for the names and dates and more to see the effect events of the time had on their lives. That never changes. Take any video game or animated series now and it’s full of pop culture references. The basis for those first video games though wasn’t just other sports or movies, but a response to the country’s Cold War paranoia of the time.

Taking an oscilloscope that was used for nuclear weapons research and making a tennis game out of it? That’s pure Homer Simpson bored at work shit, no?

Hard to blame them for letting off some steam, given the nature of the work, especially when the general public could only think about the other side dropping a nuke on their head. (Higinbotham was one of several scientists who was later involved in non-proliferation efforts as a result of their initial atomic bomb work.)

Not sure what the MIT grads buried in windowless bunkers 20 floors below have in the works these days, but I bet that it’s gonna be amazing when they finally release it.

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