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The video game entertainment industry is a multi-billion dollar international enterprise that has seen many technological advancements since its inception in the early 1960s. From primitive home entertainment systems wired by simple integrated circuitry to the digitally advanced games of the twenty-first century, the industry has been the proving grounds for some very influential scientific minds. The evolution of games technology has resulted in improvements in the quality of computer graphics for business and educational application as well, and aided design efforts in virtual reality (VR) software and the construction of artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

Earliest Games

German-American inventor Ralph Baer (1922), also known as the "Thomas Edison" of the video game, created the first video game console in 1966. While working for a company called Sanders Associates, he was commissioned to design a portable game for military training exercises based on strategy and reflex skills. Much of the early investment capital for projects at Sanders and in the collegiate think tanks came from the Pentagon. Baer believed the applications he was pursuing for the military would eventually have value in home entertainment.

Even earlier, MIT student Steve Russell brought widespread attention to the ability of computers to play games with his "SpaceWar," which was first played in the labs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on a mainframe computer . The 1960 game was a precursor to the much later "Asteroids" that captured the hearts and imaginations of many gaming enthusiasts. "SpaceWar" was later adapted from a mainframe computer game to a stand-alone console, under the name of "Computer Space," but the game met with little commercial success. Other MIT techies invented the first joysticks to replace the original games' simple control knobs.

Video Games Go Public

The 1970s saw the most significant developments in bringing video games into the attention and the homes of the American public. Nolan Bushnell, a former employee of Ampeg of Sunnyvale, California, teamed up with design engineer Al Alcom to found the company Atari. Bushnell and Alcom designed the first "Pong" game, which was a form of computerized table tennis, and introduced it to Andy Capp's bar in Sunnyvale. After the first night of public use, people lined up at ten the next morning to play this novel bar game. The video game craze was about to grip the public's attention.

Further popularizing the game craze in the eyes of Americans was the 1972 release of Magnavox's "Odyssey" that was introduced during a television broadcast hosted by the "Chairman of the Board," Frank Sinatra. These first games were quite simple compared to later technologies. Early games were based on analog systems using large-scale integrated (LSI) circuits. These game designs offered two-dimensional graphics with a restricted range of motion for participants and often-predictable responses from the computer.

The mid-1970s saw significant improvement in games and especially graphics technology with the introduction of customized microchips. Midway's 1975 game "Gunfight" was the first to utilize a microprocessor. Using an 8080 CPU (central processing unit), the game featured graphic and audio effects that had not been possible before. The simultaneous demand for higher resolution screens and increased depth of field was met by companies like Activision, using the new F8 microchips that were supplied by Fairchild Camera and Instrument.

Violence and Video Games

In 1976 Exidy's "Death Race" video game entered the market. Fashioned after a popular movie at the time, it was one of the games that first sparked public controversy aimed at violent video games. Considering the history of military involvement in early research funding, it is not unusual that the focus of video game design teams resulted in games with highly competitive strategies, a strong emphasis on physical conflict, and action and adventure settings. Many movies of the time period also reflected scenarios depicting violence and adventure: Jaws haunted the imaginations of beach-loving moviegoers, while Star Wars refreshed popular interest in the exploration and domination of outer space.

Video game violence has not been restricted by public moral outpourings. Games like "Mortal Kombat" continue to win audiences of all ages. Some observers argue that the ability to vent potentially violent aggressions in an electronic setting relieves the pressure to commit public demonstrations of violence. Other critics argue that these games provide a training ground for potentially violent youthful offenders. The 1999 Columbine School massacre in Littleton, Colorado, and other gun-related incidents in public schools throughout the United States are cited as occurrences where the perpetrators had demonstrated a history of fascination with violent games.

Many companies now offer Internet gaming services, which allow up to a few people to thousands of players to play a game simultaneously. Among the most popular applications for these multi-player games are interactive games in which a group of characters, activated by users who may be located geographically anywhere in the world, explore a virtual world to collaborate or kill one another. Regardless of the controversies, graphically sophisticated action video games of all kinds continue to be popular.

Japanese Contributions

No mention of video game technology would be complete without discussion of the Japanese market and its major contributions from the 1980s into the twenty-first century. The year 1980 saw the introduction of the "Pac-Man" game, which was invented by Toru Iwatami and associates for Namco, Ltd. Iwatami, who had tired of much of the violence depicted in video games, decided to develop a comical game that he felt everyone could enjoy.

"Pac-Man" became one of the largest selling arcade games ever, with more than 100,000 units sold in the United States alone, surpassing the then-monumental 70,000 unit record of "Asteroids" and the extremely popular "Space Invaders." Heavy use of the coin-operated "Pac-Man" was blamed for a severe coin shortage in the Japanese economy. The merchandising of "Pac-Man" T-shirts, posters, toys, and spin-off games ("Ms. Pac-Man" and others) would start another trend in home entertainment sales.

While "Pac-Man" and other arcade games grew in popularity during the early 1980s, there was a marked decrease in the sales of video games for home use. Most theories point to Atari's near dominance of the market with its 4-bit VCS console and what the public saw as limited graphical variation in game software available for home units. Nintendo's 1985 introduction of the 8-bit microprocessor dramatically changed the home video game market forever. The Japanese company became the dominant force in gaming technology with its proprietary console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and such popular games as "Donkey Kong" and "Mario Bros." The advent of 16-bit technology, most successfully marketed in Sega's "Genesis" console, allowed for a much more sophisticated graphics processing system with as many as 63 times more onscreen colors and the use of anti-aliasing and screen flipping techniques. This also brought competition to Nintendo's market dominance.

Advanced systems design furthered the competition between Nintendo and Sega and improved the market for video game sales across the globe. The 1990s saw the advent of 32-bit systems and the Nintendo 64 with turbo 3-D graphics, as well as popular hand-held video game units like Nintendo's "GameBoy." Strong competition from Sega's continuing developments and the Sony PlayStation have chipped away at Nintendo's former market position as the leader of the home video game market, but the Japanese influence on the industry remains considerable.

From Video Games to Corporate Giants

The video game industry has nurtured designers and entrepreneurs who have gone on to make major contributions to the computer industry as a whole. Steven Jobs and Steve Wozniak were employees of Atari before leaving to start a small company that grew into a huge corporationApple Computer, Inc. While at Atari, Jobs and Wozniak created a game called "Blockbuster." Their game design knowledge and experience would prove influential in their personal computer designs.

Another major player in today's computer marketplace had its roots in video game technology. In 1979 a company called Control Video Corp. offered a service called "Gameline" via the telephone network. Consumers accessed their service using a 1200-baud modem to receive features including e-mail, news, banking, and financial management information. CVC became Quantum Computer Services in 1985 and in 1989, the company changed its name to America Online.

Simulation Game Technology

One of the most profoundly powerful gaming metaphors to emerge in the 1990s was the use of simulation technology that allows gamers to explore "what if" scenarios. The field was kicked off by Maxis with the game "SimCity," and was refined with various classics such as Microprose's "Transport Tycoon" and Art Dink's "A-Train."

This technology helps people understand and work within complex systems. Although many enjoy the products as entertainment, simulation games are used for education in schools and corporations. Maxis launched a spin-off to apply this technology to business systems. Chevron created "SimRefinery" to simulate the management of a large refinery operation. Another game called "SimHealth," which was commissioned by the Markle foundation, demonstrates some of the tradeoffs of different health care policies.

A number of war games have also been built around this kind of simulation technology. Some of the earliest hits have been "Warcraft" and "Command and Conquer," which both allow multiple players to create and control production facilities and armies of soldiers that can be directed in real time. These games introduce an element of non-linearity in which players must be able to focus on multiple things simultaneously.

Gaming technology such as this has deep implications for the way decisions are made in our modern society. We can expect to see electronic information systems monitoring the flow of goods and services in the global economy as well as potentially determining strategies that humans will adapt for their environment.

see also Artificial Intelligence; Game Controllers; Internet; Simulation; Telecommunications.

George Lawton


Burnham, Van. Supercade: A Visual History of the Video Game Age, 19711984. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

Kent, Steve L. The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon and BeyondThe Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed Our World. Roseville, CA: Prima, 2001.

Internet Resources

"Classic Gaming." Game Spy Industries. <> "

The History of Nintendo." Game Spot web site. <>

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Have you ever played Tic-Tac-Toe? Did you win? Did you know that each Tic-Tac-Toe game will always end in a tie unless one player makes a mistake?

There are nine squares on a Tic-Tac-Toe game board, so the first player has nine choices for the first move. The second player has eight choices for the second move (one square is taken), which makes a total of 72 possible arrangements after the first two turns. After five turns, there are 15,120 possible arrangements.

Someone could possibly win on the sixth turn if the other player played really badly, so the nine possible winning positions must be subtracted from the total, leaving 60,471 arrangements after only six moves. No one can keep track of that many combinations, but that is not necessary. The successful Tic-Tac-Toe strategy is simply to block the other player's moves while hoping the other player makes a mistake.

A good chess player must use a sequence of opening moves that will yield the best possible position. In chess, the player in control of the white pieces (White) always moves first. Since only the eight pawns and two knights can move on the first move, there are twelve possible first moves for White. (The two knights can each move to two different positions).

There are also twelve different opening moves for the player controlling the black pieces (Black), so after only two moves, there are 144 different possible arrangements of pieces on the board. Each move opens up other pieces that can move, so after only four moves, there are about 70,000 different possible arrangements of pieces on the chessboard. Not every arrangement is of equal value, but with 70,000 different positions to consider, it is difficult for even good players to keep track of all possibilities. So good chess players remember patterns of pieces and learn to recognize certain patterns that give them an advantage over their opponents.

A great deal of mathematics is therefore involved in most games. Poker players must calculate the probabilities of certain card arrangements in order to win. (Never draw to an inside straight!) Bridge players must use probability to calculate the possible arrangements of cards in their opponents' hands in order to decide which strategy to use in playing winningly.

Bridge Strategies

Bridge players use mathematics in evaluating their hands. In one popular system, an ace is worth four points, a king is worth three points, a queen is worth two points, and a jack is worth only one point. Players also count distribution points. Having no cards of one suit is worth three points, a singleton is worth two points, and only two cards of a suit is worth one point. Evaluating the hand this way allows a player to determine if a hand is "biddable."

Once play starts, math is used to determine how best to play the cards. For example, in a typical hand, one side may have nine cards of the trump suit, which means the other side has four trump cards. Suppose the missing cards are the queen, 8, 6, and 3. How are those cards likely to be distributed between the opponents' two hands? One opponent could have all four trump cards, one could have three cards, and the other opponent one card, or each opponent might have two cards. The mathematics of probabilities shows that the most likely arrangement is for one opponent to have three of the missing trump cards. So a player cannot depend on capturing the missing queen by simply leading the ace and king.

see also Probability, Theoretical.

Elliot Richmond


McGervey, John D. Probabilities in Everyday Life. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1986.

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176. Games

See also 26. ATHLETICS ; 175. GAMBLING ; 337. PUZZLES ; 347. RECREATION .

1 . a word or phrase composed by rearranging the letters in another word or phrase.
2 . a game based upon this activity.
the art or practice of making anagrams. Also called metagrammatism.
a riddle the answer to which requires a pun or other word play.
Facetious. the use of methods that, while not dishonest or contrary to the rules, are dubious and give the user unfair advantage in a game or sport.
Facetious, the art or technique of keeping another person slightly off balance in order to gain an advantage.
Facetious. the art or technique of employing a vocabulary of arcane, recondite words in order to gain an advantage over another person.

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GAMES. SeeToys and Games .

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