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Pong was the first video game (see entry under 1970s—Sports and Games in volume 4), arriving on the American scene in 1972. Invented by Nolan Bushnell (1943–), Pong was a simple game modeled after tennis. Each player controlled a dial, or paddle, that moved a small electronically formed rectangular block up and down. As an electronic blip (the ball) moved across the screen, each player had to move the paddle to block it and hit it back to his or her opponent. Each time the ball hit the paddle, a beep was heard. The longer the game went on, the more the ball sped up to challenge players. The top of the screen showed the score as the game progressed. Graphically, the paddle was a long, thin rectangle and the ball was a large dot on a contrasting background. It was that simple. After inventing Pong, Bushnell formed the Atari (see entry under 1970s—Sports and Games in volume 4) company to produce more Pong games.

Pong was more than a simple video game; it was the start of a whole new era in home entertainment. The first Pong game was played in arcades, but home versions were soon developed that hooked up to people's television (see entry under 1940s—TV and Radio in volume 3) sets. When the Sears, Roebuck, catalog (see entry under 1900s—Commerce in volume 1) carried the game, it sold 150,000 copies. The basic format was expanded to include other games that involved hitting a ball, including soccer and hockey. These were basically Pong with the screen slightly changed. Although Pong seems primitive by today's standards, it was an exciting addition to many Americans' homes. Soon, other games were released, each with its own game console (the device that controlled the games). Sports-related games, battle games, racing, space adventures, and others followed. Atari adapted many of its arcade games for home use, including Centipede, Asteroids, Missile Command, and others. Before long, more advanced systems such as Nintendo and Sony Playstation took home video gaming to a new level of sophistication, as did computer games in the 1990s and beyond. But before all of these games there was Pong, the start of the video game revolution.

—Timothy Berg

For More Information

Atari.http://www.atari.com (accessed March 27, 2002).

Clark, James I. A Look Inside Video Games. Milwaukee: Raintree Publishers, 1985.

Koerner, Brendan. "How Pong Invented Geekdom." U.S. News & World Report (December 27, 1999): p. 67.

Poole, Steven. Trigger Happy: Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution. New York: Arcade Publishers, 2000.

Winter, David. PONG-Story.http://www.pong-story.com/intro.htm (accessed March 28, 2002).