GAMING 101: From old-school to VR - A brief history of video games

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In 1958, people at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gathered around the black and green, circular screen of an old-school computer, watching in awe as a glowing dot volleyed back and forth from either end of a horizontal line, resembling a simplified version of a tennis court.

According to The Smithsonian Institution and this progra m, called Tennis for Two, was one of the first video games. It was created by a man named William Higinbotham, a physicist at MIT, on the heels of the 1952 creation by University of Cambridge professor A.S. Douglas of a tic-tac-toe game called OXO.

Higinbotham tested the limits of computer programming, paving the way for games like Spacewar! in the 1960s, Pong in the ’70s and the creation of home systems like Atari and Magnavox Odyssey. Thanks to these innovations, the boom of the gaming industry followed closely behind.

Video arcade games became popular in the ’70s and ’80s, starting with Atari Inc.’s 1971 release, Computer Space. Other notable and revolutionary arcade games include Space Invaders in ’78, Pac-Man in ’80 and Street Fighter 2 in ’91.

I often find myself reminiscing about the games of my childhood and wishing I could go back to simpler times, spending evenings on the floor in the basement of my family home, sitting way too close to the TV so my controller cables could reach. Controller cables, of course, are a thing of the past, and thanks to advancements in technology, we are now able to download emulators (simulators of gaming systems’ hardware) onto our smartphones and computers, allowing us to play anywhere.
Game companies also have remastered many of the games I loved as a child, and it’s been amazing to see what they look like today on modern consoles with upgraded graphics and new downloadable content.

Some of the top-selling games today include Overwatch, The Witcher III, Skyrim, Mario Kart 8, Grand Theft Auto V and the well-loved classic Tetris. These games are available on computers, Nintendo Switch, Xbox or PlayStation, or a combination of the four.

Many people also like to watch streamers on Twitch and YouTube, where gamers broadcast themselves playing games live and interacting with their audience or prerecord gameplay and upload the videos. People might watch to get the feeling of social interaction, to see if they would be interested in buying a certain game or just as a form of entertainment. Some streamers can make millions of dollars a year with the right personality, skill level and audience.

In 2022, the gaming industry generated approximately $184.4 billion, more than sports and movies combined, according to A whopping 79% of gamers are adults, and 6% of those adults are 65 and older as reported by I love to see that so many older people are still enjoying video games, or are getting into them, because not only are they fun, but they are great for your cognitive, physical and mental health.

In a column recently published in the Lewiston Tribune’s Golden Times, The Associated Press’ Terry Spence discussed a Stanford University study for which researchers traveled to 17 different senior living communities in south Florida, introducing residents to virtual reality gaming. Of the residents ages 65-103, more than 80% reported improved mood and 60% reported feeling less isolated socially.

The industry has made leaps and bounds in the kinds of games and systems available over the past 20 years, most notably with VR.

Virtual reality lets users put on a headset or goggles with built-in screens and either speakers or earphones that make the user feel as if they are in, well, another reality. Some VR games include simulators that provide the realistic experience of hang gliding, creating art or visiting different parts of the world.

The VR company Mynd plans to integrate its headset with Google Earth so users can visit any place in the world, from Paris to their childhood home, according to statements from the company. There is also talk of augmented reality becoming more prominent and advanced, and being used for gaming purposes. Augmented reality is like interacting with the real world and video games at the same time and on the same screen, and I can see this being used in so many ways to elevate the gaming experience.

From clunky old computers at MIT in the ’50s to VR/AR today, one can only imagine what advancements the future of gaming holds.

Nichols, a longtime gamer, can be reached at