Tag Archives: Spacewar!

Pong (1972)

pong-box-art

Pong is about the beauty of synchronization, a tribal dance so rudimentary and primal that it’s impossible to ignore its rhythm. It’s a war of movement, an intense mano-a-mano trial of reflexes so often determined by a fraction of an inch. It spoke to the dawning of a new era, those rectangular paddles an obvious homage to the mystery and grandeur of 2001‘s (released just four years prior) evolution-baiting monolith.

Nah, I’m just messing with you. Pong is Pong, and if you’ve stuck with me so far, you probably have a pretty solid grasp on what it is and why it’s important. There’s no need to get too loquacious about the thing; I doubt many film surveys spend much time analyzing the finer points of Fred Ott’s Sneeze, either. Pong turned forty this month, and while retrospects abound, they wisely focus more on cultural impact than taking Paddle 1 and Paddle 2 for another lengthy spin. Outside of that celebration, the most you’ll usually hear about the game these days is when some half-informed news reporter does a story about whatever new blood-clogged war simulator just grossed $600 million in a single day, and concludes, with a smirk, “Whatever you think about that, video games sure have come a long way since Pong!

Why write about Pong? It’s not a title anyone would find conspicuously absent from this blog, not a Half-Life or a Legend of Zelda (someday soon, I promise!) necessary for this sort of retrospective. Continue reading

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Spacewar! (1962)

The more things change…

Spacewar! was the first video game the way that Little Richard was the first rock star. Both gracefully wrote a fairly complete rulebook for a future worldwide obsession, yet were known to such niche (or, in Richard’s case, unfairly marginalized) audiences that it’s no wonder they now play footnote to the Pongs and Presleys of history. Whether or not Spacewar! was technically the first video game does not particularly interest me; no matter how far back you go in a movement, there will always be people searching for antecedents, trying to stretch a genre back to its very kernel. OXO (a tic-tac-toe simulator) and Tennis for Two (a rarely glimpsed Pong predecessor) have Spacewar! beat chronologically, but if we’re discussing what games are “about” beyond just being graphical representations on a computer screen, then it’s no contest.

Spacewar! still holds up to the modern definition of what a video game looks like, plays like, and who it primarily appeals to, to an extent that we are not just discussing technical influence, but the creation of the mythos and values of an entire medium. It’s possible the last fifty years of video games (which, importantly, are also the first fifty years of video games) have been less about true innovation than refining what Spacewar! achieved, turning a group of early MIT programmers’ brainy off-hours passion project into something accessible enough that at this very moment, your eight year-old nephew is probably playing some rip-off of it on his cell phone. Continue reading

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