Happy 50th Birthday video games

WHAT was your first videogame? Grand Theft Auto? Donkey Kong? Mortal Kombat? Mazogs? The games industry is celebrating its 50th anniversary. A business that is now worth nearly £130bn a year was launched in August 1971.

In the late 1960s two men, Nolan Bushnell, a student at the University of Utah, and Jim Stein, researcher at Stanford University decided that they should create a videogame that could be played in an amusement arcade.

The duo teamed up with arcade company Nutting Associates to launch Computer Space in August 1971. In the years that followed kids were queuing up in arcades to play games like Pong and Space Invaders, which launched in Japan in 1978.

People had to leave their homes to play videogames back then?

You’re clearly not a baby boomer. Yes, but home gaming was already on the horizon. Atari and Nintendo both released home consoles in the 1970s. However, arcade games went from strength to strength in the 1980s with the launch of such games as Donkey Kong, Tetris and Pac-Man. Super Mario Bros. was launched in 1985.

When did the UK come into the picture?

Clive Sinclair’s home computer ZX81 was a bit of a game-changer (sorry). Launched in 1981 (and built by the now closed Timex factory in Dundee) it was designed to be a low-coast entry-level home computer for the British market. And games were part of the attraction. You could play chess and 3D Monster Maze on the ZX81, though it is Mazogs, launched in 1982 that early gamers probably remember most fondly.

Good graphics?

For the time. But kids today would be horrified by their basic black and white blockiness. And then tell them you had to upload the game via a cassette tape …

What came next?

The 1990s saw the launch of games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mortal Kombat. The violence in the latter prompted a US Senate investigation and the introduction of video game age ratings.

In the 21st century online gaming became a thing. The launch of platforms such as Microsoft’s Xbox (in 2001), Sony’s Playstation2 (2000) and Nintendo’s DS (2004) and Wii (2006) helped establish gaming as perhaps the pre-eminent entertainment industry of the era.

Indeed, Hollywood has been making movies (of varying quality) based on video games since Super Mario Bros. came out in 1993 (not the late Bob Hoskins’ greatest hour and 40 minutes).

Later this year the Resident Evil film franchise, based on the video game franchise, will get a reboot, fronted by Kaya Scodelario.

Which brings us up to date.

More or less. The pandemic saw a 20 per cent rise in gaming sales last year, while surveys show that more and more people over the age of 50 are now playing. As many as 42% of people in the UK aged 55 to 64 play video games regularly.

It might even have health benefits. Studies show that playing 3D computer games can help prevent memory loss.

Where did I put my ZX81?

Good luck with that. Alternatively, you could always wait for the launch of the new Nintendo Switch in October.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992