Do you know which is the first video game in history? No, it’s not Pong, as many think, but Tennis for two. And its invention is due to an American physicist, William Higinbotham.
The scientist worked in a lab that offered Doors Open Days to the public every year. One year and to make the event even more fun for visitors, he developed a little game that he presented to the public at the lab’s open day on October 8, 1958.
How the first video game in history was created
The goal: to make science less boring
We all know that scientific exhibitions are often static and boring. That’s why Mr. Higinbotham started to look for a way to make it more dynamic and fun. And this is how he proposed his simple game, Tennis for two, to involve visitors and have more interaction with them.
An oscilloscope and a computer
This is how it looked like: an oscilloscope screen showed a 2-dimensional view of a tennis court. The ball was represented by a bright point leaving traces while bouncing forth and back on each side of the net. Players could control the game with rotating knobs connected to an analog computer to manage the ball’s direction.
Hundreds of intrigued visitors lined up to try out this funny electronic tennis game. At that time, Higinbotham had no idea that his game would be a precursor in an industry 50 years later.
But it wasn’t until 1982 that the Creative Computing magazine officially attributed the authorship of the first video game to Higinbotham.
How was Tennis for two developed?
Reading the user’s guide
The “brain” of the game was a small analog computer. By reading its user’s guide, Higinbotham came up with the idea of the game. Actually, the manual described how to generate several lines on the cathode ray tube of an oscilloscope using resistors, relays, and capacitors. As an example, the book showed the trajectories of a bullet subjected to gravity and wind resistance.
Bingo! Tennis for two was born.
The evolutions of the game
In 1959, the players already had additional customization options: they could even play Tennis on the moon, with low gravity, or on Jupiter, with high gravity.
Although the scientist became the precursor of the video games that we know today, he quickly fell into oblivion. In 1970, he again returned to the news during a trial involving the creators of Pong.
During the trial, the experts determined that Higinbotham’s invention was not a video game because it did not use a video signal to send data to a screen. So, it was not until the article by Creative Computing in 1982 that it took a prominent place in gaming history.
Higinbotham died in 1994 and never patented his video game, as he never considered it an invention. Even if he did, his employer, the federal government, would have received the royalties instead of him. However, Higinbotham has won the recognition of gamers worldwide who enjoy playing video games every day.