Video Game History: The Race for the First Video Game

It has taken us three deliveries to get here, but now we can start talking about the direct predecessors of video games, hand in hand with the dizzying advances that were being made in electronics and computing, a field that experienced a progression at an exponentially increasing speed, with machines that were reducing their size and price at a rate as dizzying as their prices were increasing. capabilities and benefits. Of course, the first computers were real monsters that were used for “serious” research things. Such is the case of the EDSAC, the first machine capable of executing previously recorded programs (on perforated cardboard).

But while the EDSAC helped Nobel Prize winners like Andrew Huxley or Martin Ryle, those behind it carried out all kinds of experiments and programs, and one of them was a game simulation: the tic tac toe. Called OXO, it is a good candidate for the “first video game in history” since it fulfilled some of the notions of it. We played against the computer to see who could make a line of three in a 3×3 matrix, showing the representation on the screen and using a peripheral in the shape of a telephone wheel to enter the position in which we were playing. Cambridge University computer science professor Sandy Douglas, who was one of the few to have access to EDSAC, was responsible for a program whose original implementation is lost, although it has been recovered through emulation.

In almost parallel fashion, one of the pioneers of programming languages, Christopher Strachey, wrote a checkers program in 1951 that he would later run on another early computer: Ferranti’s Mark 1. Strachey did a lot of weird things in the dawn of programming, like the first musical compositions designed for a machine and certainly his game of checkers counts as one of the pioneers of the idea of ​​​​the electronic video game, although at that time it was still something purely academic and not intended for the public (which does not mean that they did not have fun with them , as demonstrated in this restored recording).

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However, the “first video game in history” It is not something so easy to define and academics in the sector put different theories on the table. The point is that before 1951 there were already computerized machines you could play with, like Ferranti’s Nimrod, shown at a science exhibition in England as a proof of concept for what would later become his first computers. It was a machine whose only function was for a human to test himself against a machine in a NIM game, an ancient Chinese board game. But there are those who do not consider it a “video game” since it used light bulbs to visualize the development of the game and that clashes with the strict definition as something that has to emerge from a screen (because of the “video”). To this effect, neither OXO nor Strachey’s checkers fit that strict definition either, which specifies that it has to have “real-time moving images” (this is something that can be considered questionable, but it is there as a way of delimit the study better, although there is a lot of debate about it).

Next week we will come to one of the examples that generates the most consensus about its status as the “first video game”: table for two and his curious story of how he was unearthed from the oblivion of history to mediate in a million-dollar legal dispute in the United States.

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