Video Game Legends You May Not Know Are Dead

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 Video Game Legends You May Not Know Are Dead


In 1958, 14 years before Pong propelled video games into the mainstream, physicist William Higinbotham created Tennis for Two, which is widely (and legally) considered the very first video game ever made. Unlike other contenders for the throne, Tennis for Two takes place entirely on an animated digital display (the Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device, which predates Tennis for Two by 10 years, relied on overlays placed on top of the screen, the digital adaptation of Nim used lights instead of a screen, and the Tic-Tac-Toe simulator OXO didn’t have moving graphics). Further, Tennis for Two wasn’t made as a tech demo or a scholarly experiment. Higinbotham simply made the game because he thought it would be fun.



He probably needed a break, too, because Higinbotham’s day job involved working in Los Alamos, New Mexico alongside the team that created the first atomic bomb, developing electronic radar displays for various aircraft, and helping to establish the Federation of American Scientists, an organization dedicated to nuclear disarmament. Compared to all that, Tennis for Two is a trifle. And yet Tennis for Two, which Higinbotham designed in two hours and programmed in about two weeks, still paved the way for an entire multi-billion industry.



Not that Higinbotham got any of that money, of course. While Higinbotham owned more than 20 patents, he didn’t get protection for Tennis for Two, claiming that he “didn’t think it was worth it.” Instead, Higinbotham worked for 47 years at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, and after retiring served as a consultant to the lab until he died of emphysema in 1994.