Science Interviews


Mon, 27th Apr 2015

The history of video games

Jeremy Thackray, Centre for Computing History

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The video games industry is, financially, the biggest entertainment industry inPong the world. But where did it all start? Georgia Mills spoke to Jeremy Thackray, assistant curator at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, for a nostalgic look at some of the earliest games...

Jeremy - Commercially, it really begins in the 1970s with Pong. Thatís the first one that everyone remembers. Itís the one that people think of as the very first video game, those noises and that screen are very familiar to lots of people.

Georgia - I see youíve got a copy of Pong over there.

Jeremy - We do, yes, always very popular.

Georgia - At this point, we got slightly distracted by Pong which is one of the worldís oldest games. To modern gamers, it might seem unbelievably basic Ė two lines and a dot. Donít let the dot go behind your line. Kind of like pixelated tennis, simple enough Ė although that didnít stop Jeremy from annihilating me. But how did we get from this simple game to the Shoot ĎEm Ups, RPGs and action adventures of today?

Jeremy - The thing that started video games off in a big way was the arcade. It was really interesting because it was the social space for people to go and gather and discover this new kind of media form. The home gaming market always followed the arcades. The games that were really successful on home machines were the ones that were massive in the arcades like Space Invaders. Once that made it into homes in about 1980, I think thatís when home gaming really took off because people wanted that same arcade experience in their house.

Georgia - How has the technology changed over time?

Jeremy - The technology has changed massively. Itís extraordinary, the rate of pace. We sometimes talk about the early examples of processors that we have here. one of the first processors wouldíve had a number of transistors and this wouldíve been about in the kind of low hundreds. In an Xbox One, you get billions of transistors. The technology is just advancing an incredible rate right now. People often talk about the quest for photo realism in games and weíre just about there now to be honest. I think itís an amazing that that has happened in about 30 or 40 years and it makes you wonder where weíre going to be in the next 30 or 40 yearsí time. itís just an enormous field with so much potential.

Georgia - And you say itís an enormous field. How big is the gaming industry?

Jeremy - Gaming industry right now, itís bigger than film. Itís overtaken music. Itís the biggest entertainment industry in the world, certainly in financial terms. In terms of kind of cultural capital, itís still catching up a little bit. You'll find often in culture supplements in newspapers, they're still much more willing to talk about the familiar things like music and cinema and so on. But thatís changing. Thatís not the only way things are changing today. The big new thing in games right now is virtual reality which tried Ė it almost got there in the 80s, people thought it was the next big thing but the technology just wasnít ready. It is now. There are several major companies who are starting work on VR headsets. There's also a whole new market for games thatís come in the form of mobile phones and smartphones which is opening up audiences massively. People who donít necessarily think of themselves as gamers are spending a lot of time on the bus, on the train, on their way to work playing games. So, the audience has expanded massively. The technology is going the same way. Itís becoming almost ubiquitous in our daily lives really.


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