History of video games/Calculator


Almost as long as there have been widely available programmable calculators, there have been games developed to run on them. What makes Calculator Gaming interesting from a historical standpoint is highly related to the hardware it runs on, and the institutional opposition to its very existence. Not only is calculator hardware not designed for games, compared to gaming hardware from the same time they are often nearly antithetical to running games. Manufacturers of calculators were often not friendly to gaming on calculators and took steps to prevent it.[1] Some calculator companies sought to protect their monopolistic place lucrative industry of academic technology,[2] and likely saw the ability of their devices to play games as a possible factor that could jeopardize their market position.

Yet calculator gaming persisted despite the odds. As programmable calculators became integrated with academic instruction, they quickly became a common item capable of playing games, yet few large commercial enterprises bothered trying to commercialize the platform. This means that nearly all Calculator games are homebrew, and thus are often fan games made with little concern for IP law, giving additional insight to the popular culture trends of the time. Often games were spread from calculator to calculator over communication cables, rather then from a central source.[3] Furthermore calculator hardware tended to be quite limited in comparison to gaming hardware, giving rise to a demoscene of sorts where skilled programmers would attempt to make games that most considered impossible on the hardware they ran on.


The HP-65 was introduced in 1974 as the first mass-produced programmable handheld calculator.[4] Notably, the HP-65 allowed Satoru Iwata to start programming games while in high school during the mid-1970's. This including his first game, a baseball simulator which was well received amongst his friends.[5][6] This lead him to an illustrious career as both a video game pioneer and a notable leader at Nintendo.[6]

A few deliberate attempts were made to blend calculators and gaming devices were made in the late 1970s to the early 1980's to varying results. The 1977 TI Dataman toy calculator attempted to use games as an educational tool for learning math.[7] In 1980 calculator technology was repurposed to make the first Game & Watch game consoles.[8] Though the Game & Watch were not calculators in and of themselves, they were said to be inspired by a rider on a Shinkansen train playing with a calculator.[8][9] Had it not been for calculator technology, one of the first handheld gaming consoles to see widespread popularity may have never been made.

Darth Vader's Force Battle was released in 1980 for the TI-59 calculator, becoming among the first documented games developed for calculator hardware which received widespread distribution.[10]

The 1985 introduction the Casio FX-7000G graphing calculator introduced graphing calculators monochrome dot matrix displays,[4] greatly increasing the kinds of games possible on calculators. However it was the 1990 introduction of the TI-81 with TI-Basic helped popularize calculator gaming by making it more accessible to beginner programmers,[11] which naturally worked well with the students who used the calculators who were themselves often beginner programmers. This transformed the calculator into a different sort of educational tool, and helped some self starting students learn computer programming.[11] The addition of a serial port and more capable hardware on the TI-85 in 1992 coupled with a trick developed in 1994 to allow non TI-Basic code to run on the system helped proliferate games coded in assembly language,[12] which could be more advanced by being more efficient with limited system resources.

The more powerful graphing calculators of the late 2000's and the introduction of color screens in the early 2010's ushered in a more standard calculator gaming experience, with more normal looking games and emulators written for these platforms.[12]

By 2014 unofficial ports of complex real time games such as Smash Bros were being made for older TI-84 hardware.[13]

By May 24th, 2020 Texas Instruments had announced that they would be removing support for assembly and C based programs on some of their calculators with a software update as a means to curb cheating,[1] a move which would also impact games using those languages. On May 27th, 2020 the computer enthusiast YouTube channel LinusTechTips demonstrated a significant, though slightly unstable, overclock (16 megahertz to 26.8 megahertz) of on a TI-84 by replacing a resistor with a potentiometer and adding a custom water cooling loop to run a port of Doom at a higher frame rate.[14]


Calculator GamingEdit

Calculator HardwareEdit


  1. a b "Texas Instruments makes it harder to run programs on its calculators" (in en). Engadget. https://www.engadget.com/ti-bans-assembly-programs-on-calculators-002335088.html. 
  2. McFarland, Matt. "The unstoppable TI-84 Plus: How an outdated calculator still holds a monopoly on classrooms". Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2014/09/02/the-unstoppable-ti-84-plus-how-an-outdated-calculator-still-holds-a-monopoly-on-classrooms/. 
  3. "Ode to the Graphing Calculator" (in en-us). Lifehacker. https://lifehacker.com/ode-to-the-graphing-calculator-1795376992. 
  4. a b "The History of Calculators: Evolution of the Calculator (Timeline)" (in en). EdTech Magazine. https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2012/11/calculating-firsts-visual-history-calculators. 
  5. "Portrait : Il s'appelait Satoru Iwata : Hommage au visionnaire de Nintendo" (in fr). Jeuxvideo.com. https://www.jeuxvideo.com/news/1012034/portrait-il-s-appelait-satoru-iwata-hommage-au-visionnaire-de-nintendo.htm. 
  6. a b "Happy Birthday, Satoru Iwata". Siliconera. 7 December 2020. https://www.siliconera.com/happy-birthday-satoru-iwata/. 
  7. "Texas Instruments Dataman Handheld Electronic Calculator" (in en). https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_334470. 
  8. a b "Iwata Asks". https://iwataasks.nintendo.com/interviews/#/clubn/game-and-watch-ball-reward/0/1. 
  9. Sherrill, Cameron (13 November 2020). "How a Glorified Calculator Shaped Nintendo for Generations". Esquire. https://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/a34659956/every-nintendo-game-and-watch-edition-photos/. 
  10. "Byte Magazine Volume 05 Number 10 - Software". October 1980. https://archive.org/stream/byte-magazine-1980-10/1980_10_BYTE_05-10_Software#page/n51/mode/2up. 
  11. a b Nichols, Phil (30 August 2013). "Go Ahead, Mess With Texas Instruments" (in en). The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/08/go-ahead-mess-with-texas-instruments/278899/. 
  12. a b "The History of TI Graphing Calculator Gaming". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jo_WgbUfNxc. 
  13. "Super Smash Bros On A Calculator". Hackaday. 18 November 2014. https://hackaday.com/2014/11/17/super-smash-bros-on-a-calculator/. 
  14. "Water Cooling a TI-84 Graphing Calculator!". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l06PlYNShpQ. 

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