The History of Computer Games

I was going to try to write a brief history of video games here, but I’m not too sure what I’d really be trying to achieve by that?

I suppose one way to construct the story would be to look at games that introduced technical innovations, in graphics, sound design or soundtrack composition; or games that invented new styles of gameplay (such as the first real adventure game, or sandbox game), or were the first of a kind that hailed a new innovation in interface design – whether on screen (life/health bar indicators, for example), or via physical input devices (joysticks, gamepads, six-axis controllers, or guitars!); or a history of the first popular game on each new games console? A history based on games that achieved milestones of one sort or another, in other words.

But that doesn’t sound particularly satisfying – there are lots of books that tell the tale in detail, and lots of other books that cover it in brief, and I’m not sure I could do it justice here in a thousand words or so…

So I’m going to “cheat: – and pass of the telling of the tale, should you care to “read” it, to someone else. And to a medium that isn’t a long text document…

…a timeline.

To try and get you to actually look at the thing (?!), I thought it might be interesting to compare two versions of a common (more or less) timeline. In particular, the History of Video Games timeline on xtimelines (the same service where the Digital Worlds timeline lives…)

Firstly, there’s the actual timeline version: History of Video Games

Then there’s this video version inspired by that timeline:

View both treatments of the timeline. Do either of them engage you in the telling of the story? Did you get a sense from either of the tellings why the games represented do appear in the history? Did you feel you actually learned anything? Is there any way that either telling could be improved in such a way that you feel you might have learned something from it (and what would that something be?)

If you prefer a more traditional documentary style view, here’s something from Google Video: History of Video Games (Discovery Channel) (though it does rather look as if it has been ‘stolen’ and shouldn’t really be there… ;-)

Alternatively, if you prefer a traditional presentation, try this (Console Video Game History):

From a quick look around the web, I haven’t managed to find a really good public domain article on the history of games (post a comment if you find one;-), though there are lots of books covering the subject area (try Amazon!;-)

So if you fancy writing a brief history of video games, maybe even just focusing on the games that revolutionsed the development of a particular aspect of computer gaming, such as soundtrack design, or user interface design) and linking back to here, I’m sure we’d all like to read it ;-)

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3 Responses to “The History of Computer Games”


  1. 1 Tony Hirst November 22, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    In order to protect the historical record of computer games, a National Video Games Archive [ http://www.nationalvideogamearchive.org/ ] has been established in the UK.

    You can read about the background to this initiative in the following Game, Set, Watch interview with one of the people behind the Archive: “Interview: UK National Video Game Archive’s Newman On Preserving The Past” [ http://www.gamesetwatch.com/2008/11/interview_uk_national_video_ga.php ]

    Here are some of the things you might pick up on if you do read the article:

    - the philosophy behind the creation of the archive and its collection policy (that is, what sorts of things will be archived, and why);
    - how and where the collection will be displayed.

  2. 2 Christopher Billows February 20, 2009 at 5:43 am

    That is a a nice summary of links relating to games history.

    I published my own effort which was focused on major game play elements. Its not particularly complete, but it satisfied my initial curiosity. I have some future plans relating to this topic that I hope to promote within the year.

  3. 3 jason May 6, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    This appears to exclude the ZX 81 and the Spectrum games which established gaming for the mainstream home pc market, (in the UK) as apposed to the dedicated video game console market.

    You mention the commodore 64 but this was brought out long after the zx81 and spectrum had created the home pc games market.

    I think that the games market history owes allot to the zx 8- and spectrum because the platforms inspired many 1000′s of game designers and publishers – include one-man-band company’s.

    This was a golden period of game design – in my humble view.


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