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  • Steven Erquiza

First Video Game Ever

Physicist William Higinbotham was born on October 25, 1910, in Bridgeport, CT and grew up in Caledonia. He went to Williams College and Cornell University. Higinbotham worked as an electronics technician at Cornell when he was a graduate student.

William Higinbotham created the first video game. It was a straightforward tennis game, similar to the 1970's video game Pong. In October 1958, there was an open house in Brookhaven National Laboratory during which thousands of people would tour the lab. Higinbotham was responsible for creating an exhibit to show off the instrumentation division's work.

Most of the exhibits were kinda boring so Higinbotham thought he could get visitors' attention by creating an interactive demonstration. He later recalled in a magazine interview that he had felt "it might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society."

It took Higinbotham only a couple of hours to think of the idea of a tennis game and a few days to put the pieces together. He did work on radar systems and many electronic devices, so designing this game was simple. Technician Robert Dvorak built the machine in 2 weeks. After a little debugging, the game was ready to be played. They called the game Tennis for Two.

Visitors loved it; players had to keep score themselves. Tennis for Two didn't have none of the high-definition graphics video games we use today, but it was something new at that time. It became the most popular exhibit, with people waiting in line to get a chance to play. After 2 years, Tennis for Two was retired. The device was torn apart and was used for other purposes.

Higinbotham's primary interest throughout most of his career was not video games but nuclear arms control, and he helped found the Federation of American Scientists. He served as its first chairman and executive secretary. Higinbotham died in November 1994, more famous for his video game than his work on nonproliferation.


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