Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

What Was The First Video Game Created?

In the 1950s, it was difficult for consumers to imagine a time when they could go pick up a home video game console at their local store. Video games were bulky, housed on mammoth computers in labs, and often not accessible to the public. However, that all changed in the 70s and 80s.

While the video game crash of 1983 set the industry up for a surprising comeback, the 1980s weren't the birthplace of video games. Instead, the 1950s and 60s saw several advancements in gaming. Many games were invented simply to test the capabilities of technology or push the envelope on what was possible in computing (via VG247). However, potential gamers soon were able to enjoy games created specifically for entertainment, some of which were even distributed to local hangouts like bars and college campuses.

Like most bits of history, the origins of video games are convoluted, and often get bogged down by multiple competitors fighting to claim their invention as first. Here are the first video games ever created, depending on your definition of video game.

Tennis for Two is a grand experiement

It's not entirely clear which video game was the first, and in fact the answer might lie in semantics. There are two games that many historians believe to be the first. One is the first game ever invented, while the other is the first game made available for commercial consumption.

The first video game in existence was likely a version of tennis developed by William Higinbotham, a nuclear physicist that led Brookhaven Lab's Instrumentation Division (via Brookhaven National Lab). According to the Brookhaven National Lab, Higinbotham thought that museum exhibits were often boring and static. A live demonstration of technology at work might make things more interesting. So, he created "Tennis for Two," a game that closely resembled the later "Pong." Of course, 1958 wasn't the time that video games were going to break into the mainstream. The equipment needed to run "Tennis for Two" was pricy – and rare – at the time, and while people lined up to experience the game during Brookhaven Lab's open house, "Tennis for Two" wasn't widely available. While Higinbotham's experiment may have been the first video game created for strictly entertainment (as opposed to being made for research), the first commercial video game would come years later.

Computer Space flies to bars and college campuses

"Computer Space" was the first commercial video game, a hefty arcade machine that allowed players to take on the role of a space pilot fighting other ships in a vast sea of stars. According to The Reader, though, "Computer Space" was too complicated to become a hit with gamers. Players wanted something they could casually pick up and understand, and reading an instruction booklet or experimenting with trial and error wasn't appealing.

In 1971, 1500 "Computer Space" consoles went on the market, specifically advertised to be put in bars or other popular hangout spots (via Warped Factor). The brightly colored arcade machines sold quickly, but never managed to draw the same cult following as "Pong" would the next year. However, "Computer Space" has another important purpose in video game history, as its creators, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, went on to found Atari, one of the first major video game companies.