Welcome to the first part in a groundbreaking four hundred part series on the complete history of videogames. If there’s one thing games coverage doesn’t do enough, it’s incessantly talking about the start of the industry, then hastily jump ahead twenty years and discussing GTA. We hope to put that right with this stunning new series, in which the complete, unabridged story of videogaming will be told, from its ancient origins, to the latest ventures in 3D SFX technology. We begin, of course, at the beginning.
There is much contention about the true origin of videogaming. While the veracity of this tomb painting has yet to be settled, there are some who argue it goes back as far as Ancient Egypt.
Whatever the truth about that old photograph, there is no question videogames have been around almost as long as humans have walked on land. But since no one invented the videogames magazine until 1979, it was unfortunately not until then that the first concrete records of specific games were made. All before is lost to us.
Perhaps there is no more famous game than that which adorned the cover of that very first gaming journal.
SPANG was, of course, the very first game available for people to buy without a license, allowing the phenomenon of videogaming to enter every public library in Britain. The seven-player game was available for both the ITV Highfive, and Sir Clive Dunn’s Chromatron. (The first and last game ever to be released on both rival systems.) With just a bat, a ball, three bases and a revolving mirror, it looks amusingly primitive today, but at the time was at the very cutting edge of science. Played using a joystick and a mass spectrometer, almost everyone of the era remembers at least giving SPANG a go.
It went on to spawn not just five sequels (the most notorious of course being SPANG IV: Visible Erection), but also a slew of copycat games that dominated the market for the next six years. It wasn’t until 1985 that anyone sought to create a different sort of game, and that’s when everything began to change.
Everything. With universal physics realigned, and the predatory nature of moths no longer a threat to young humans, videogaming began to appear in a new light.
New light allowed images to be viewed from more than three feet away, meaning games (and indeed television) could now be seen from the sofa. With the extra dimension and increased pull of gravity, sitting became a pursuit of many in the mid-80s, leading to a craze for couch-based games, viewed from as far away as the other side of the front room. And with it, the birth of simulation gaming. But that is for another time, as this series continues.
This article was first published as part of, and thanks to, The RPS Supporter Program.