We've always been intrigued by video games, not just playing them but their history and how they affect society. We were a part of the first generation that grew up with them. It's crazy to see how they've become so integrated into society in such a short time. Even people that say, "I don't play video games," bide they're free time playing "Candy Crush," or take online quizzes to find out what kind of tree they are. It seems like they're everywhere now so we'd like to take a look at how they started, social problems, benefits and why we're so obsessed with them.
The First Video Games
Most people if they had to guess, would say the first video games came around in the 1970's with primitive electronic home and arcade systems like the Atari. While that was when they started becoming popular their origins actually go farther back.
The Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device.
The earliest video game device we could find was invented by Cornell physicist Thomas T Goldsmith Jr in 1947 called the cathode-ray tube amusement device.This device used an oscilloscope, a device that can graphically represent changes in voltage. The game itself used these "o-scopes" as they were called hooked up to analogue dials that would regulate and change voltage values. The o-scope would make an arc on the screen that would change positions based on where the dials were turned by the user.
This technology was previously used in early radar displays and was turned into a game by bored physicists where the beam now represented an imaginary artillery shell aimed at overplayed plastic targets. At the end of the beam's trajectory, the beam would defocus and blur looking like an explosion. Thus creating the first "3rd Person Shooter."
This repurposing and modification of military equipment led to other games like "Bertie The Brain," "OXO," a version of tic-tac-toe and "Tennis For Two," over the next several years by physicists that were supposed to be working on ways of furthering military intelligence and for the first time in human history someone, somewhere yelled, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TWO DOING PLAYING VIDEO GAMES? YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE WORKING!!!"
From then on, we've been struggling to balance our moments of productivity and moments of recreation with electronic devices. However, this technology involving principles of analyzing voltage regulation lead to lots of other inventions including what today musicians call MIDI (musical instrument digital interface), a staple and almost a necessity in creating modern high quality recordings. So... we use it for work too...Mom.
It would be a few years until the rest of us would be able to enjoy this technology. In 1967, Ralph Baer and a team of developers working for Sanders Associates Inc invented a multiplayer video game system that could be hooked up to a home television screen called "The Brown Box." Baer licensed his invention to Magnavox who rebranded and sold the device as "The Odyssey" in 1972. The company made 28 games but the video game craze didn't quite catch on for a few years leading to console's decline and discontinuation. However, a few years later in 1975 it gave rise to the extremely successful home console and arcade company Atari, who essentially took their games and added slight variations. Magnavox sued Atari for copyright infringement and won over 100 million dollars. Since Atari was such a success both companies saw it fit to allow Atari to become an official Odyssey licensee over the next 20 years.
A New Art Form.
For itss already almost 30 year history, hardware and software were inherently linked. The games were the consoles and the consoles were the games. In 1979, Activision was the first company to arise as a software developer for games while not making any arcade or home entertainment systems of their own. This was the birth of an artistic revolution where today concept artists, script writers, voice actors, story directors and musicians have a new way to express their art and not have to know how oscilloscopes work.
Historic Mile Stones
1978- launch of "Space Invaders" arcade game
1980- Pac Man debuts in United States
1981- "Mario" character introduced in Nintendo's "Donkey Kong" game
1983- "Video Game Market Crash" (due to low quality, unregulated, unlicensed 3rd party games). Most video game companies went bankrupt.
1985- Nintendo releases 8bit graphic console NES
1989- Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda & Metroid
-Gaming licensing & intellectual property regulations imposed by Nintendo
- Nintendo releases handheld "Gameboy"
Hold My Beer, Nintendo!
After the video game crash Nintendo emerged with a new marketing plan for its 8-bit technology, marketing it as a toy not a video game. It seemed like no one would ever catch up or compete with there massive head start and virtual monopoly of the industry.
That was the case until Sega, a company that appeared seemingly out of nowhere launched it's 16-bit (that's twice the bits!) full color console with it's iconic original character "Sonic The Hedgehog." At the time this was a huge technological leap in graphics and hardware capability. It would be like a car company coming out with a model that uses half the fuel, goes twice as fast and sold for about the same price. This started a console war with the two companies essentially trying to "one up" each other over the next several years with other companies like Sony and Microsoft eventually joining the race and giving rise to a multitude of 3rd party developers that are still around today. It's due to this rivalry that video games keeps pushing the limits of computer and graphic technology.
Violence in Video Games.
While it could be argued that the first violent video game was created in 1947 with physicist pretending to blow up imaginary airplanes with a rewired radar display most people point the finger at Sega with their 1990's releases of games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. After several congressional hearings and debates on "Do video games make kids violent?" Sega instituted a game rating council called to provide a description of each games content. This eventually formed into today's game rating system overseen by ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board).
Do Video Games Make You Violent?
The short answer is no. There hasn't been any conclusive evidence that video games will make you violent (and people REALLY have tried). The studies conducted over the years have actually suggested the opposite as it seems to provide an outlet for violence that can be redirected into an object rather than another human being. Think of the person that gets mad and hits a punching bag at a gym for a few hours instead of their boss.
What we have to remember is that video games are art and art tends to mimic what society is doing. If we didn't have war, no one would make games like Call of Duty. It would be a foreign concept that wouldn't make sense. Art can and always will be offensive as long as there are offensive aspects in our society. It's a good thing when we get offended by offensive things. Daniel Tosh said it best, "If you don't like my jokes encourage society to make better choices and I'll adjust my material accordingly." Art is a mirror. If you don't like what you see you need to change what the mirror is reflecting. If you break the mirror, that thing you don't like about yourself will still be there. You'll just be less equipped to do something about it.
Do Games Make You Lazy?
Absolutely. At least a lot of them have the potential to encourage it. Many of them (especially mobile games) are also designed to be addictive. These video games are based on the timeless psychology of "Action for Reward." You get a small amount of dopamine with every action. That's why it feels good to complete that level, defeat the the bad guy, put that puzzle piece right where it goes or get that colorful explosion when when you make a row of all gumdrops or candy canes (or however that last one works, we haven't played Candy Crush). It can become a problem just like anything that gives you a certain amount of dopamine for your choice to interact with it, like alcohol, dare-devil fishing or the worst one of all: social media. The WHO classified video game addiction as a mental illness in September 2019... but they also said it's a really great way to stop the spread of Covid 19 and maintain social connection in April 2020... so there's that.
What we need to remember is that it's OK to be lazy every once in a while. It's ok to disconnect from reality every once in awhile and let art take you away in an immersive experience. That's why we're musicians. We want to offer you a distraction every once is awhile. You shouldn't use someone else's art as an excuse to ignore your responsibilities entirely. You shouldn't use ANYTHING to ignore your responsibilities entirely. However, as artists we understand that it's are job to let you have a break for awhile, as often as your responsibilities allow.
Van Philosophy Live Volgcast Episode 18
Tonight we'll be chatting about our favorite games, our not so favorite games and why we're so fascinated by them. We try to be as intellectual as possible but at the same time we'll probably just act like a bunch of nerdy teenagers, lol. Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube Channel and tune in at 8:00pm/est, tonight Wednesday 9/23/20 and tell us about your experience with video games. We started the live vlogcast of our Van Philosophy Vlog to recreate those late night miles, driving to next city after a show while out on tour, trying to keep each other awake. We're excited that, in a way, we're able to take you along with us. Get in the Van!
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All Photos By Roshambeaux
Additional Photo Credits
Cathode ray tube amusement device- US Patent 2455992
The Brown Box1967-1968- National Museum of American History
The Sega Genesis- Popular Mechanics