The history of video games

27 April 2015

Interview with

Jeremy Thackray, Centre for Computing History

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. That's the first one that everyone remembers. It's 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 you've 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 world's oldest games. To modern gamers, it might seem unbelievably basic - two lines and a dot. Don't let the dot go behind your line. Kind of like pixelated tennis, simple enough - although that didn't stop Jeremy from annihilating me. But how did we get from this simple game to the Shoot 'Em 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 that's 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. It's extraordinary, the rate of pace. We sometimes talk about the early examples of processors that we have here. one of the first processors would've had a number of transistors and this would've 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 we're just about there now to be honest. I think it's an amazing that that has happened in about 30 or 40 years and it makes you wonder where we're going to be in the next 30 or 40 years' time. it's just an enormous field with so much potential.

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

Jeremy - Gaming industry right now, it's bigger than film. It's overtaken music. It's the biggest entertainment industry in the world, certainly in financial terms. In terms of kind of cultural capital, it's 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 that's changing. That's not the only way things are changing today. The big new thing in games right now is virtual reality which tried - it almost got there in the 80s, people thought it was the next big thing but the technology just wasn't 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 that's come in the form of mobile phones and smartphones which is opening up audiences massively. People who don't 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. It's becoming almost ubiquitous in our daily lives really.

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