Some might think the men who wrote what is credited as the first video game ever, Tennis for Two, might regret not patenting his work. If they did, however, the United States government would have owned that patent. And it's fascinating to consider the Department of Energy as a founding investor in the multibillion-dollar video gaming industry of present times.
Tennis for Two was created by Drs. William A. Higinbotham and Robert Dvorak at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y. on Oct. 18, 1958. The lab, also the scene of six Nobel-winning discoveries, is currently honouring the achievement. It can be played with a replica controller on a simulation of its original oscilloscope screen, all of five inches. Future versions of the game allowed it to be played in alternate gravities, such as the Moon's or Jupiter's.
The New York Times went there and spoke to one of the developers' son, Robert Dvorak, Jr., putting together another chapter on the very early days of video gaming.
Higinbotham got the idea reading the instructions for one of the computers at the lab. It could simulate the trajectories of bullets, missiles, or bouncing balls — why not create a tennis game? It was conceived as an attraction for a laboratory open house to be held later. Of course, when word spread of the new game, a long line snaked out the door waiting to play it. Next time you're outside a game store waiting in line for a new AAA-release, remember you're a part of a phenomenon now half-a-century old.
Dvorak's son, who is now 57, fondly recalls playing the game. He's an electrical engineer now. And he's still a gamer.
"Games are great," Robert Dvorak Jr. said. "You a learn a lot about strategy, you interact with people, you use tools and creativity. I'm a gamer, period."
Brookhaven Honors a Pioneer Video Game [New York Times, and NYT photo]