Who invented video games?

Ralph Baer and His Brown Box
Gentlemen, you owe Ralph Baer, along with a few other pioneering minds, a debt of gratitude for those daylong gaming sessions.
Gentlemen, you owe Ralph Baer, along with a few other pioneering minds, a debt of gratitude for those daylong gaming sessions.

Baer would have to wait for more than a decade before he could revisit the idea, this time as the chief engineer at defense contractor Sanders Associates. With the company's support and the help of fellow engineers William H. Harrison and William T. Rusch, Baer completed the first video game system in 1967 [source: The Lemelson Center].

Unlike its predecessors, Baer's system was compatible with ordinary television sets. One prototype followed another, with each new design capable of playing more complicated games. By the time the seventh and final prototype, known internally as Brown Box, was completed in 1968, Baer's team also had developed several games for the system. In addition to Chase Game, where players chased each others' squares around the screen, and a "ball and paddle" game that would later inspire the creation of Atari's Pong, Baer's team developed a checkers game, several sports ones and even a shooting game that used a rifle peripheral.

After putting the finishing touches on Brown Box, Baer began searching for a company willing to take his video game system to the public. In 1971, Magnavox became the first licensee of Baer's "TV Game" and developed the Odyssey home video console based on the technology. Like Baer's Brown Box, the Odyssey came with two paddle controllers and an optional light-sensing rifle peripheral. The system also came with colorful plastic screen overlays that allowed players to play "color" video games, as well as poker chips and other board game accessories. The system was a huge success, selling more than 700,000 units for the company over the next three years, despite the widespread misconception that the console would only work on Magnavox television sets [source: The Lemelson Center].

For some, garnering the title "Father of Video Games" would be enough, but Baer continued to develop electronic toys and games for years to come. In 1978, for instance, Baer created the runaway hit Simon game for Milton Bradley, becoming part of pop culture in the process. Today, Baer is still drawing new designs and reviving old ones, having most recently recreated a putting peripheral originally designed for the Magnavox Odyssey.

Keep reading for more links to inventors and their crazy ideas.

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  • Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). "How much do you know about video games?" (Jan. 6, 2011) http://www.esrb.org/about/video-game-industry-statistics.jsp
  • Gettler, Joe. "The First Video Game?" Brookhaven National Laboratory. (Jan. 6, 2011) http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/history/higinbotham.asp
  • Herman, Leonard, Jer Horwitz, Steve Kent and Sklyer Miller. "The History of Video Games." GameSpot. (Jan. 6, 2011) http://www.gamespot.com/gamespot/features/video/hov/
  • The Lemelson Center. "Ralph H. Baer Papers." (Jan. 6, 2011) http://invention.smithsonian.org/resources/fa_baer_index.aspx
  • National Museum of American History. "The Brown Box, 1967-68." (Jan. 6, 2011) http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object.cfm?key=35&gkey=216&objkey=9931
  • National Museum of American History. "Magnavox Odyssey Video Game Unit, 1972." (Jan. 6, 2011) http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object.cfm?key=35&gkey=216&objkey=9935
  • National Museum of American History. "The Father of the Video Game: The Ralph Baer Prototypes and Video Games." (Jan. 6, 2011) http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/group_detail.cfm?key=1253&gkey=216&page=1
  • Winter, David. "Pong-Story." (Jan. 6, 2011) http://www.pong-story.com/

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