The home version of
Atari Pong shown below is from
1976. When first released through Sears
in 1975, this device launched an industry; it was the first successful
video game console for
Pong, the large arcade version, hit bars, restaurants, and arcades in 1972. It was the first popular video game and, for better or worse, the beginning of an entirely new entertainment medium. But Pong, I think, has greater historical signficance than that. Pong was the first time most of us ever interacted with a video screen. Sure we’d turned our television sets on and off and changed the channel, but never before had we ever affected anything onscreen. Until Pong.
Today, manipulating things onscreen is so commonplace it is hard to imagine a time when it was unheard of. So Pong wasn’t just tennis on a screen, it was a truly brand new thing with implications we could only begin to imagine.
Now here’s still another
historically interesting aspect to these video games. Pong was a
two-player game, of course. But for most of the games that followed, a
second player was optional, or even impossible. These games ushered in
an era of solitary play—perhaps not exactly the
healthiest thing for an increasingly alienated world. Like the Las
Vegas slot machine before it, solitary entertainments like this can be
very attractive and highly addictive.
Above from left is Space
Invader by Entex
(1980) and Epoch’s Dracula
1982. The brown
disk-shaped game is Coleco’s Zodiac
(c.1980). MVP Football from
(1978) is a two-player game that isn’t exactly “video.” The box it came
in calls it a “Hand-held electric action game.” With the steering
wheel is the Entex 3D Grand Prix
dated 1981, and the fiery Entex
pinball game Raise the Devil
is from 1980. Mattel Electronics
produced this Auto Race game
in 1976. Invader From Space is
(1980) and the Tomy Attack In Space
is c. 1980.
To the right is Arcade Defender by Entex (1981), Milton Bradley Hangman (LCD, 1995), and Mattel Battlestar Gallactica Space Alert from 1978. The big one (at 6-7/8" by 8-7/8" by 2-3/8") is Tomy’s Hit and Missile from 1979. The last three are LCD games: Invader, in the triangle shape, c.1980s, the Nintendo “Game and Watch” Manhole from 1983, and in the shape of an actual watch, Nintendo’s Zelda from 1989. The front of this one says “Nelsonic.”
Some of the games you see here are hardly “video” at all, but
rather are mostly mechanical and just trying to ride the wave of
popularity early hand-held video games enjoyed. Call them “pretenders,”
or “hybrids” if you want to be kind.
What about Etch A Sketch?
“interacted with a video screen?” Don’t be a smart-aleck. But
Etch-A-Sketch did show us something relevant here. Etch A Sketch showed
how compelling the concept of affecting events on a screen was long
before Pong. How else could you explain the popularity of such a
tedious toy, which was basically nothing more than a pencil and
paper—with a lot of added limitations? (Etch A Sketch, Ohio Art,
So yes, I do have an Etch A Sketch in my collection.
Most of my video game collection is of the hand-held models. I observed, while putting together these pages of small radios, recorders, players, and these video games, that I seem to be drawn to miniature time-wasters.