History of video games/1970-1979

Mass Media


While the general public remained generally oblivious to video games during the early part of the decade, this quickly began to change with the dawn of the golden age of arcade gaming, as well as the release of the popular Atari 2600 home video game console. With the rise of this new mass media, also came some of the first widespread moral panics and controversies over video gaming.

In addition to consumer usage, edutainment games in schools began to propagate more broadly during the 1970's, though their usage was hampered by both the technology, and by a lack of computers.[1]

Women Developers


Despite facing workplace adversity, the 1970's saw several women make prominent contributions in the video game industry, most notably at RCA and Atari.[2][3] However these developers would often not see widespread recognition in their day. This trend would continue into the 1980's.[4]

  • Arcade style games, especially the Lunar Lander subgenre
  • 2D Shooters
    • In the first half of the decade Spacewar! clones were popular among video gamers.
    • The massive success of Space Invaders (1978) led to the popularization of the genre with the public.
  • Tabletop games often influenced computer games of the time.
    • Wargaming, as well as tabletop role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons inspired many early computer roleplaying games.
  • Text adventures and other interactive fiction proved popular among those few who owned home computers. These simplistic games often required no special graphics hardware, yet offered a glimpse into fantastic worlds for imaginative gamers despite their limitations.
  • Edutainment games were a popular target for developers, hoping to improve or capitalize on the educational market.
    • In the first half of the decade, these games were common on minicomputer and mainframe time share systems, limited to those affiliated with specific institutions.
    • Later in the decade, as schools began adopting home computers, these games became much more accessible to the public.



The May 4th Massacre

A bullet hole in a statue near the shootings at Kent State University.

The horrific events of the May 4th massacre by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University had drastic effects on America, and especially on those present. Several of those present at the event would go on to influence the game industry.

Several students present were moved by what they witnessed transpire to form the band DEVO.[5] Band member Mark Mothersbaugh later goes on to work on games such as Crash Bandicoot.[6] Another student, John De Lancie, was less then 20 yards from the shooting, and worked with Senator Young and Ted Kennedy to share his experience with the Senate.[7][8] John De Lancie would later pursue a career as a prominent actor, which included voice acting for video games.[9]

Game of Life


After development in the 1960's, Conway's Game of Life is published in Scientific American in 1970.[10] Although initially a simple mathematical game, it was later turned into various computer programs. The game is formed by a simple playfield of "cells", each one surrounded by eight "neighbors" (the adjacent cells), and either "lives" or "dies" in the next turn based on them. The correct combination of "alive" and "dead" cells can create stable systems ("still lives"), mutating shapes, ("oscillators"), moving objects ("spaceships") or generate an infinite stream of shapes through "guns", thus allowing for a sort of "war" to be "fought".


The 1971 game Star Trek.

Galaxy Game

Galaxy Game, a 1971 arcade game.

In September 1971 the arcade game Galaxy Game is installed at Tresidder Memorial Union of Stanford University.[11] The game is a Spacewar! clone, designed with multiplayer-only capabilities in mind as it lacked an artificial intelligence for single-player gameplay. Although it ranks as the first known coin-operated video game (running on a modified PDP-11), it was never commercially released. Despite this, it can be ran on the popular MAME emulator for modern computers.

Computer Space


In November 1971 the arcade game Computer Space is released by "Syzygy Engineering" (the progenitor of Atari, Inc.) to try to recreate the success of the Computer Quiz game of 1968.[12][13] The gameplay is reminiscent of Spacewar!, but is distinct enough to avoid being classified as a Spacewar! clone. Few units survive to this day, but the game itself is a popular culture icon among video game fans,[14] both due to it's historical value and due to it's distinctive and funky cabinet design.

The Oregon Trail


In November 1971 three student teachers (Bill Heinemann, Don Rawitsch, and Paul Dillenberger) make The Oregon Trail for a UNIVAC computer operated by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium and is connected to a number of schools in Minnesota by teletypewriter.[15][16] The Oregon Trail was made despite challenges posed by limited computer access.[17] The first version of The Oregon Trail had to be made with teletypewriters in mind, so shooting mechanics were based on accurately typing words quickly.[17]

The Oregon Trail is one of the earliest edutainment games. As of 2020 the game's modernized versions are often considered to be among the best edutainment games made.[18][19]

Intel 4004


1971 saw the release of the Intel 4004, Intel's first chip produced on a 10 micron process.[20] This chip becomes one of the first generally available microprocessors, helping to usher in an era where mass-produced computers and programmable game consoles could reach the home.



Atari & Pong

The prototype Pong cabinet.

In 1972 Nolan Bushnell founds the company Atari, releasing the arcade hit Pong by fall 1972.[21]



Gaming at BGSU

You have just run out of fuel - pray for rescue.

Moon, "Computer can play golf, blackjack" Nancy Laughlin BG News (Oct 3, 1973)[22]

Across the United States, many gaming cultures have sprung up at various universities, piggybacking off of the advanced computing resources available to students. Records from the rural Bowling Green State University show that this spread was not limited to the biggest or most elite universities by 1973.[22] The Bowling Green State University computer center offers about 250 computer games for students to play freely, including Moon an early game in the Lunar Lander genre.[22]

Lemonade Stand

The interface for the game Lemonade Stand.

A programmer working for the educational institution Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium makes Lemonade Stand for their UNIVAC mainframe, which is connected to a number of schools via teletypewriter.[15][16]Gameplay revolves around simulating a business, balancing prices and costs with demand influenced by external factors like weather.[16]

Lemonade Stand is among the first games that attempts to simulate a business, as well as an early example of an edutainment game.

Oil Panic


The OPEC Oil embargo to the United States, Japan, and other nations creates great economic shock and a recession.[23][24] Hanafuda cardmaker and toy manufacture Nintendo is nearly pushed to financial ruin by the economic effects of the embargo and begins desperately seeking alternate revenue sources, eventually leading them to make home video games.[25]

Phong Shading


Phong Shading is invented in 1973, becoming a common 3D graphics shading technique which adds dynamic highlights to objects.[26][27]

BASIC Computer Games


1973 sees the release of one of the most influent computing and video gaming books of History: BASIC Computer Games, initially a DEC book titled "101 BASIC Computer Games". The book is a collection of BASIC source codes (usually converted from DEC's FOCAL) for simple video games, collected and partially modified or created by David H. Ahl. The book initially written in the DEC dialect of the language for use on PDP computers, but Ahl later left DEC to found the magazine Creative Computing, purchased the rights to the book, changed its title and ported the games to the now more standard Microsoft BASIC (which was starting to be used for home computers, and still survives today in its Visual Basic form), with instructions on how to port the games to platforms running personalized dialects.



Dungeons & Dragons

dnd, a game inspired by Dungeons & Dragons which started development in 1974.

In 1974 the original "White Box" edition of the World-famous Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game is released with it and its derivatives influencing a number of programmers, and through them highly influenced the creation of both Western computer RPGs and Japanese RPG genres.[28][29][30]



Video Games on Planes


In 1975 Braniff Airlines offers Pong during flights, becoming the perhaps first airline to offer a video game as an official in flight entertainment option.[31][32]

First Digital Camera


On December 12th, 1975 the first digital photograph is taken by Kodak employee Steven Sasson of subject Joy Marshall.[33] The Camera captures the image using a CCD from Fairchild Semiconductor and then takes 26 seconds to record the result onto an audio tape.[33] Later on gaming devices such as the GameBoy camera and the Xbox Kinect used digital cameras to offer unique gameplay experiences.[34][35]

Graphic Music Synergy


At ACM SIGGRAPH 1975 in Bowling Green, Ohio a presentation is given on graphics influenced by music[36], an early example of a relationship that would become common in games with adaptive music.


A flyer for Fonz, a 1976 arcade game by Sega



1976 was an important year for automobiles and racing in video games.

Datsun became the first automaker to license one of it's cars for a arcade game in 1976,[37] later seeing a home console port to the Bally Professional Arcade.[38] Later on, real automobile brands would later proliferate in racing games, adding to realism and immersion, as well as being a powerful marketing tool for the automobile industry.[39]

In 1976 the Death Race arcade game is introduced, prompting media to question the violence featured in the game.[40] The newness of video games meant that some outlets struggled to differentiate the game from a pinball machine or board game.[41] The sensationalism surrounding the game ultimately boosted it's sales.[42]

Apple Computer

The Garage where Apple Computer was first based.

On April 1st, 1976, Apple Computer is founded by Steve "Woz" Wozniak and Steve Jobs in the latter's garage[43]. The initial purpose of the company is to manufacture Woz's Apple I motherboard. The company later produces a number of computers which were commonly used for gaming, and would even help produce the short lived Apple Pippin game console during the 1990's.



The gameshow TV Powww debuts, focusing on playing video games on a television show via telephone.



Mobile Suit Gundam


The Anime Mobile Suit Gundam is released in Japan, having a huge influence on Japanese geek culture, and by extension influencing a number of Japanese game designers. The designs of Mobile Suits from Gundam may have had an influence on other game series as well.[44]


  1. Wells, Matthew (28 July 2022). "The nuclear war origins behind some of the earliest computer lab games". Polygon. https://www.polygon.com/23278536/rand-corporation-nuclear-wargames-computer-lab. 
  2. "Celebrating Women at Atari - Blog - The Henry Ford". www.thehenryford.org. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  3. Edwards, Benj (27 October 2017). "Rediscovering History’s Lost First Female Video Game Designer". Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90147592/rediscovering-historys-lost-first-female-video-game-designer. 
  4. Hernandez, Patricia (11 February 2021). "In the ’80s, she was a video game pioneer. Today, no one can find her" (in en). Polygon. https://www.polygon.com/2021/2/11/22273073/ban-tran-atari-2600-wabbit-first-female-character-video-games-playable-history-apollo. 
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  20. "The Story of the Intel® 4004". Intel. Retrieved 25 October 2020.
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1960-1969 · 1980-1989