Games Of The Digital Age

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Alexander S. Douglas developed the first digitally imaged game in 1952. Close followers of rapidly developing technology, these games prove that the virtual world depicted in the 1999 film ‘The Matrix’ is not science fiction at all.

It was autumn. An evening breeze gently ruffled my hair. Fallen leaves crunched underfoot at every step. At a slight noise like the buzzing of a fly I turned my head to the left, taking care to make no other sound. A bomb exploded with a deafening roar. As my body was jolted by the shock wave, a warning resounded in my ears, “Retreat! We’ve been ambushed.”. Ignoring it, I pressed the trigger of my automatic weapon and began firing wildly. Bullets were flying all around.  As the adrenaline was coursing through my veins I heard my mother’s voice call, “Dinner’s ready. Come to the table...”

Games and gaming have been part and parcel of human life since time immemorial. Concealed in a newborn baby’s first laughter are looks that will continue to manifest themselves in different forms through every changing period of his life, the reflection perhaps of a mystery embedded in man’s nature... Perhaps life itself is a game. For the creature known as man loves to continuously change his shape, his name and the rules by playing games.

With today’s technology, it is possible to embark on entirely undiscovered adventures over the internet with friends disguised in myriad identities, to form teams and play soccer matches, to play tennis using capabilities that approach the bounds of the real, such as ambient sound and high resolution visuals. And we can do all this right in our own living room!

The first game with digital image in world history was developed in 1952 by Alexander S. Douglas. A game by the name of OXO (AKA tic-tac-toe) that he invented for his doctoral thesis on human-computer interaction at Cambridge University, it was played on a 35x16 resolution screen using a translatable telephone intermediary. It was followed in 1958 by Tennis for Two, a simple tennis game played by means of an oscilloscope. Despite these firsts in the history of digital games, it would be another ten years at least before such games became widespread.

Toward end of the sixties, the digital games designed in parallel with developing technology did not go beyond a few gigantic pixels on screens consisting of enormous black and white dots. Commonly acknowledged as the most successful digital game among them is Spacewar! Developed by MIT students in 1961, Spacewar! is played by two players each one controlling a spaceship that can fire missiles. The two spacecraft fire at each other on a black screen, all the while trying to avoid being sucked into a black hole in the center. Such experiments, conducted in various universities and firms around the world, were the harbingers of a new era in gaming.

Token-operated Machines
Installed in a student club at Stanford University in September 1971, Galaxy Game is the first token-operated game machine in the history of digital gaming. Based on Spacewar! and developed in the same year by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, a game machine by the name of Computer Space, the first in the series of the same name, failed to achieve commercial success because it was too difficult to learn. The first commercially successful token-operated game machine is Pong, produced by Atari in 1972. After Atari sold over 19,000 Pong machines, first Space Invaders was marketed by Taito in 1978, followed by a game device called Asteriods marketed in 1979. The world’s first color Arcade game, Pac-Man, produced in 1980, is a fun game that preserves its popularity even today despite being almost 30 years old.

Games enter the home
Personal computers slowly began to enter the home in the 1980’s. Simple programming languages like BASIC on these first generation PC’s enabled users to write their own games. There are numerous success stories of people who formed companies by selling games they had developed at home during the decade. Formed in 1982, Electronic Arts, for example, has grown today into a giant group of companies that include some of the world’s largest game studios.

A steady proliferation in the number of digital games has spawned a dizzying variety of game genres such as Action-Adventure, Fighting, Maze, Platform, Racing, Role-playing, Strategy and Simulation games. Games such as Zork, Dragon’s Lair, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Metroid, Dragon Quest, Metal Gear, and Battlezone are important names that left their mark on the 1980’s.

In the same period, thanks to PC’s and game devices produced by such firms as Commodore, Atari, Sinclair and Apple  digital games and computers ceased being a luxury and became part and parcel of everyday life.

Towards the Millennium
When the price of personal computers and devices like Sony PlayStation and Nintendo Game Cube intended exclusively for playing games started to come down, the age of three-dimensional games was born with the tens of thousands of games that were put on the market between 1990 and 2000. The entry of the internet into our lives in the same years offered a whole new concept: online games. It was possible now to play games not just against the computer but with or against real people all around the world.

The Wonders of the Millennium
In line with advances in technology, we have games today that can hardly be distinguished from real images and that we can control with our voice and bodily movements. Games that can bring together more than 12 million people in the virtual worlds created by producers like World of Warcraft. Whatever you want to do, there is definitely a virtual character and world that you can control. If you like, you can strap your sword or your spells to your waist and battle horrific dragons, or you can travel to distant galaxies as a space pilot, or even build a house, furnish it as you please and invite your friends over. You can share the football turf with the world’s most expensive players and teams while simultaneously sipping your fruit juice. What’s more, you don’t even need to be at home to do these things. You can find tens of thousands of games on the mobile devices that fit in your pocket.

When you share with your children your memories of the days when you played hide-and-seek, you may of course look back on the past with nostalgia. But if there’s one thing that doesn’t change in this world it’s change, and when our children tell their own children how they played games on computer screens, can we be sure our grandchildren are not going to step into a Matrix world and gape at them in disbelief? No way!