Sam Hart
Guns, Games, and Glory:

The Birth of Home Video Games

Ralph Baer has been called "the Tom Edison of video games," and for good reason. It was under his supervision that a team of 500 engineers and technicians built the first video game console in 1966. What is not commonly known is how and why this came to be.

There was not a demand for the product. Only a handful of persons in the world had played previous computer games. Those games were usually variations of a game called "Spacewar" and could only be played on $40,000 computer terminals. Thus the question must be asked, who would have funded such a project? The answer is: The Pentagon.

Baer worked for a military electronics consulting firm innocently named Sanders Associates. In the past, Sanders Associates had been employed by the United States military to design weapon circuitry, wire missiles, and generally develop classified military equipment. In 1965 military strategists came to Sanders with a project. They desired computer simulations to help refine their soldier's military prowess by teaching strategy and magnifying reflex skills. They wanted the system to be compact enough to be portable (portable in those days meaning "luggable" or lighter than eighty or so pounds) and to use relatively inexpensive equipment, namely an ordinary television screen. The project was given high security precautions, as most projects were during the height of the Cold War, and Baer was chosen to head it.

After struggling for months on the project by himself, Baer finally succeeded in getting two white dots to chase each other around a black and white screen. This impressed the military representatives enough to warrant a dramatic increase in funding, which lead to the hiring of more assistants. Originally, Baer hired two engineers, Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch, to work full-time on the secretive "TV Game" project. Together, they worked in a ten-by-fifteen foot windowless office affectionately referred to as "the game room." The office was always locked, and the only people with keys were Baer, Harrison, and Rusch.

As time went by, more and more were employed in the project. Within a year the team had a working ball-and-paddle game. Over the next six months this would evolve into a moderately sophisticated hockey game. By the end of 1966, Baer and his team had a working prototype of a video game console ready to show members of a Pentagon review board.

The project leaders beamed with pride as they switched on the device for those present. The television hummed and slowly blocks of light came into focus. The members of the Pentagon review board were not impressed. They felt that insufficient progress had been made on the project, but acknowledged there was enough reason to continue research.

It was at this meeting that Baer first expressed his personal theory that a device such as this could be a very profitable form of entertainment. The review board, however, felt that the military could benefit from such a technology more than a consumer, and decided that the project was to continue under it's "top secret" classification. It would be four years before a non-military company would be approached with a similar system.

A Brief History of Home Video Games

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Siehe auch:
Interview mit Nolan D Bushnell, Erfinder von Pong und Atari-Gründer