History of Videogames
Part One: The 1970s
From Introduction to Game
Thanks to Frans Mäyrä & SAGE Publications
Multi-Layered Meaning Making
Behind their digital surface, many
games are „remediated‟ versions of old
Games have a close relationship with
advances of technology. Early games
like Tennis for Two or Spacewar were
developed and used as demos of the
powers of new technology.
It can be said that interactivity is what
games are and what they do, at the
very core of gameplay, hence they are
great demos for the lastest hot tech.
Developed the "Brown Box" console video game
system and several other prototypes in 1966. In
1971, it was licensed to Magnavox, and after
being renamed Magnavox Odyssey, the console
was released to the public in 1972.
Created the first light gun and game for home
television use, sold grouped with a game
expansion for the Odyssey, known as the
Shooting Gallery. The light gun itself was the
first peripheral for a video game console.
Another invention is Simon, an electronic pattern-
Games at the Forefront of Computing
Non-keyboard interfaces, immersive
alternative realities and anthropomorphic
characters were introduced by games
Games demonstrate how computer software
can be designed to be highly usable and
According to this view, games lead the way
into an information society where most
people are „computer literate‟.
MOORE‟S LAW says that computer power
doubles every 18 months.
The concept of „classic‟ relates to a „standard
of excellence‟, which is referred to in
discussions that compare, contextualise and
make sense of different (artistic) phenomena.
As distinct from “Genre”, „Canon‟ refers to a
body of „great works‟ that a civilised person is
supposed to know.
This textbook introduces a certain group of
„classic games‟ but many alternative „canons
of digital games‟ can be created.
Three Decades of Digital Games
Our focus will be on three decades: 1970s, 80s
There is no agreement of the exact periods in
The „golden age of video games‟ can, in different
sources, refer to e.g. the years 1978–1981,
1978–1985, 1971–1983 or 1971–1984.
The early period is generally seen as more
influential, original and important for game
development than the years from late-1980s
Games in the Information Society
In social history terms, playing of popular games
is rooted in the rise of affluence and free time in
the late industrial societies.
“Hobbies” are activities that reflect and
reproduce the values and activities typical to the
Several thinkers have written about transition
into an „information society‟, where the main
emphasis is on knowledge and information in
Games in the Information Society
A digital game is immaterial information –
software code – therefore the rise of the games
industry is an interesting example of the
information economy in action.
The instability of the games industry has
displayed the risks of an information economy.
History includes the video game crash of 1977,
then 1983, foreshadowing the „dot-com crash‟ of
Despite this, the trend appears to be moving
towards „experience economy‟ or „media society‟.
1970s: Learning the Lexicon
introduced the first
video games, both
in arcades and into
more complex, the
with the evolving
lexicon‟ (sets of key
PONG (1972): Popular and
More on page 58
Image credits: Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Pong.png
Watch video of original arcade PONG gameplay:
Play a simple, single-player version of PONG:
More PONG remakes: http://www.pong-story.com/pcpong.htm
Atari designer of Pong in 1972 – “the birth of
Simple core gameplay and key factors of
1. 1. easy to learn controls
2. 2. Familiar game mechanics
3. 3. Infinite variety generated by multiplayer
Secrets of PONG
The core gameplay idea is already widely
familiar from tennis, squash and other similar,
Players know immediately what to do.
The single, turn-knob controller is easy to
handle, but hard to master.
The on-screen PONG paddle was divided into
eight segments, so that hitting the ball with the
edges would produce angle shots.
As a two-player game against a real person as
an opponent, PONG would provide infinite
variety in its gameplay.
History of Gaming Devices
The physical and electronic characteristics of
gaming devices matter considerably for most
The earliest digital games were often created
with „mainframe‟ computers in research
laboratories and universities.
Four main routes of mainstream game evolution:
arcade gaming consoles („arcade video games‟)
home video game consoles („video games‟)
home computers („computer games‟)
handheld consoles („electronic games‟).
Evolution of Controllers
There have been many
kinds of special controllers
developed for digital play.
Sometimes a good
controller has provided a
particular system with the
edge. Above Atari VSC/Atari 2600 (1977);
below, Nintendo Famicom/NES (1983)
Image credits: Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.org
Shooter Game: Space Invaders
Shooting galleries were popular
as fairground attractions.
Different kinds of digital
„shooters‟ have become one of
the most popular kinds of action
Space Invaders by Japanese
Taito appeared as a “mixture
between pinball and a Marvel
comic”. (Sellers, 2001)
Introduced „high score‟ which
contributed to the social
playability of the game.
Image credits: The International Arcade Museum, www.klov.com;
The History of Computing Project, www.thocp.net
What Nishikado achieved at
the level of shell or
representation, was the
theme of a battle of laser
defence against invading
This effectively recreatedthe
simple core concept into a
new kind of “shell” experience
– a science fiction action
Playability is a concept related to HCI “usability
which relates to learnability, memoriability, and
effectivity of use. The extension of usability
into the area of “fun.”
Functional playability– usability of game and
Structural playability – enjoyability of balance
of game rules and challenges
Audio Visual – implementation of a/v into
1980s: Introducing Adventure,
Characters and Fiction in Games
From 1970 to 1980 the total recreation
expenditures in the US more than doubled.
It is questionable whether there was actually
more leisure time available - people just used
more money on leisure and entertainment.
Games profited from evolving technology by
providing more complex digital entertainment.
The 1980s introduced fictional storytelling and
character elements to mainstream digital games.
Pac-Man as a Pop Phenomenon
Pac-Man (Namco, 1980) was originally designed
by Toru Iwatani, and in Japan it was called „Puck
Designed to appeal to a wide audience, also
females - one of the all-time most popular
Consciously avoided references to killing and
war in its shell (imagery, thematic level).
Small, cute characters and cheerful melodies
Pac-Man toys, cereal, lunchboxes, a hit song
and an animated cartoon series were produced
to profit from its success.
The main character was
designed to illustrate the
game‟s main activity: eating.
Chasing and escaping while
navigating is the other main
Four ghost characters were
differentiated by their colour
and style of movement (which
also gave them personality).
The ghosts‟ animated eyes
showed their direction of
Image credits: Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.org.
Pac-Man game design: arcade cabinet (US version, published by
Play a Pac-Man clone online:
Image credits: The International Arcade Museum, www.klov.com.
Game Genre Systems
Game genre can be based on the game‟s shell
or iconography („space game‟) or its interactivity
(type of action: a „shooter game‟),
Large numbers of possible actions exist in
games (listing them, Mark J.P. Wolf classifies
games into 42 different genres).
From a descriptive linguistics perspective, genre
terminology needs to be recognised by players to
be truly useful.
Game genres are constantly being named and
renamed by players, experts and game media:
living game cultures are in a state of flux.
Genre of Pac-Man
If action decides the genre, Pac-Man can be called
an „eating game‟.
Many classic board games are based on „eating‟
other player‟s game pieces.
Perhaps more importantly, Pac-Man is a „maze
game‟: labyrinth navigation is a central feature.
The dynamics of chase increase the difficulty: player
needs to multi-task in real time while navigating the
Puzzles and Games
Chris Crawford (1984) compares and
differentiates games from puzzles, stories and
The quality and degree of interactivity is the key.
A puzzle does not actively respond to moves
made by man (a static puzzle is not a „dynamic
Even a classic jigsaw puzzle can be made into a
digital game - see http://www.jigzone.com/ (adds
real-time counters, competitive challenge or
By the early 1980s, there was already an
entire generation (shikaku sedai, the visual
generation) living immersed in Anime and
Manga in Japan.
Japanese popular culture influenced digital
The Japanese games enhanced the
gameplay experience by introducing
recognisable characters, exploration-inviting
places and rudimentary storylines to motivate
Donkey Kong (1981)
Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, Donkey Kong
included cut scenes (short non-interactive
sequences or movies) to advance the plot.
The villain of the game is the ape, which
escapes with „Jumpman‟s‟ girlfriend and the
player is faced with the task of winning her
Jumpman would later be known as Mario, the
most famous game character of all time.
The game narrative progresses through four
different game screens with different building
platforms to climb - making this the archetypal
Donkey Kong Art
Donkey Kong arcade cabin, screenshots
Play a Donkey Kong clone online:
Image credits: The International Arcade Museum, www.klov.com.
Legacy of Donkey Kong
From the starting screen of escaping ape to
the final screen with Jumpman rescuing the
lady, Donkey Kong was able to convey an
The story progressed as a reward to
successful player action - a solution that many
games have replicated since then.
Many later Mario series games had similar
features to Donkey Kong: sideways-depicted
jumping landscapes, and „rescue the lady‟
Popularity of Mario
The game designer of the Mario games (Shigeru
Miyamoto) has become the most celebrated of all
time - known also for the Legend of Zelda series.
More than 200 games with Mario characters have
been published, selling nearly 200 million copies
Relating to their popularity, Mario games have
generally been well-designed: their high playability
includes clear goals, immediate rewards from the
successful use of game controls, enjoyable visual
and audio design, and a „sense of magic‟ permeating
their fictional universe.
Mario in the List of Best-Selling Games
Estimations of digital games that have sold over
10 million copies:
1. Super Mario Bros. (NES version) - 40.23 million
2. Tetris (Game Boy version) - 30 million
3. Pokémon Red, Blue and Green (Game Boy version) - 20.08 million
4. Super Mario World (SNES version) - 20 million
5. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES version) - 18 million
6. The Sims (PC version) - 16 million
7. Pokémon Gold and Silver (Game Boy version) - 14.51 million
8. Super Mario Land (Game Boy version) - 14 million
9. Nintendogs (Nintendo DS version) - 13.6 million
10. Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire (Game Boy Advance version) - 13 million
11. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PlayStation 2 version) - (13 million)
12. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PlayStation 2 version) - (12 million)
13. Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (PlayStation 2 version) - (11 million)
14. Grand Theft Auto III (PlayStation 2 version) - 11 million
15. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64 version) - 11 million
16. Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen (Game Boy Advance version) - 10.66 million
17. Gran Turismo (PlayStation version) - 10.5 million
18. Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES version) - 10 million
19. Pac-Man (Atari 2600 version) - 10 million
Shigeru Miyamoto‟s Titles in
Entire series of games have been produced, known
List of game franchises with more than 25 million
Mario (more than 193 million) Sonic the Hedgehog (44 million)
Pokémon (155 million) Lineage (43 million)
The Sims (85 million) Dragon Quest (41 million)
Final Fantasy (75 million) Crash Bandicoot (34 million)
Tetris (60 million) Tomb Raider (32 million)
Madden NFL (60 million) Resident Evil (31 million)
The Legend of Zelda (52 million) James Bond (30 million)
Grand Theft Auto (52 million) Mega Man (27 million)
Donkey Kong (48 million) Medal of Honor (27 million)
Gran Turismo (47 million) Command & Conquer (25 million)
Street Fighter (25 million)
More Depth of Character: RPGs
Role playing games (RPGs) have developed into
different varieties: „pen-and-paper‟ or „tabletop‟
RPGs, „live action role playing‟ („larp‟) and
First tabletop RPGs (like Dungeon & Dragons,
1974) had their roots in miniature war games.
Typically RPG games involve the creation of a
character with various attributes, such as
strength and intelligence.
A game master (GM) will present the challenges
of an adventure to players, who take on the roles
of their player characters (PCs) during the
Early Computer Games: Text
Early computer games often relied on text and
typing rather than graphics and audio.
The earliest text adventure game was
ADVENT (1975-76), programmed by Will
Growther and Don Woods.
The player would read descriptions from the
screen and type in commands like „go north‟.
Infocom produced famous games like Zork
(1977-1980), and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to
the Galaxy (1984).
An alternative to text description was to use the
computer monitor to draw images by using text
Famous games of this type: Angband,
Hack/NetHack, Moria, Rogue.
Known as ASCII graphics, these games only
relied on basic letters and numbers (ASCII
characters) to display the game world.
Rogue-like games often featured randomly
generated dungeons, adding to their replay
Typical Rogue-like Interface
------ - Wall
|....| ############ # Unlit hallway
|....| # # . Lit area
|.$..+######## # $ Some quantity of gold
|....| # ---+--- + A door
------ # |.....| | Wall
# |.!...| ! A magic potion
# |..@..| @ The adventurer
---- # |.....|
|..| #######+..D..| D A dragon
|<.+### # |.....| < Stairs to the previous level
---- # # |.?...| ? A magic scroll
Adventure Game Types
Several distinctly different types of games with „adventure‟ elements
Taking two key features, interaction temporality and the consistency
of game world, the following table can be constructed:
Game Genre Interaction Game World Example
Action RPGs Real time Random Diablo (1996)
Interactive Fiction Turn-based Pre-scripted Zork (1980)
Platform Games Real time Pre-scripted Donkey Kong
Roguelike Games Turn-based Random NetHack (1985-
Contemporary games are often „action adventures‟, featuring both
real-time interaction as well as interlinking puzzle structures.
Ultima RPG Series
Richard Garriott started the
design of computer games
while still at school.
His first published game was
called Akalabeth (1979),
made for Apple II personal
His Ultima series of
Akalabeth screen (Image
computer RPGs is
considered the longest credit, Wikipedia,
running RPG franchise. www.wikipedia.org)
Ultima IV: Game with Thematic
The fourth game in the Ultima series represented
an attempt to go beyond hack-and-slash battles
or straightforward puzzles.
The player is destined to become Avatar, a hero
figure who is faced with various ethical choices.
The game follows the main character‟s struggle
to understand the Eight Virtues and reach
The player can become engrossed in the fiction
and ethical dilemmas, but it is also possible to
face Ultima IV as „just a game‟.
RPG Player Styles
In late-1990s, participants in the
rec.games.frp.advocacy Usenet newsgroup
developed „Threefold Model‟ to identify different
It is one of the key player or play style typologies,
„dramatist‟ (values how well the in-game action creates a satisfying
„gamist‟ (is focused on game challenges, „winning the game‟)
„simulationist‟ (values above all a coherent and believable, simulated
Ultima IV Art
Ultima IV screenshots; install and play original Ultima IV
for DOS or XU4 remake from
Image credits: Origin/Electronic Arts; source: www.mobygames.com.
Assignments on Diversifying
The birth of a genre:
select a digital game (preferably from the 1980s) that you
consider to have started a new genre. Give a short
description of it, and give your reasons for attributing it as
the first in a particular game genre.
Maps in games:
look for examples of the use of maps in games; describe
and discuss them. You can either take a particular game
and map, or write about the role of maps in games in
Map of Britannia, shipped with Ultima IV.
Image credits: Origin/Electronic Arts; source: www.uo.com.
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