The Father of the Video Game: The Ralph Baer Prototypes and Electronic Games
By the 1960s, millions of Americans had invested in televisions for their homes, and it soon became clear that this technology could be used for more that passively watching television shows. In 1966, while working for Sanders Associates Inc., engineer Ralph Baer began to investigate how to play games on a television. Between 1967 and 1969, he and colleagues Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch created several video game test units. This result was the “Brown Box,” a prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system. Sanders licensed the system to Magnavox. In 1972, Magnavox released the design as the Magnavox Odyssey, paving the way for all video game systems that followed.
Ralph Baer donated his video game test units, production models, notes, and schematics to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 2006. His papers are kept in the Museum's Archives Center. In 2014, the Museum collected his workshop to become the landmark object for its Innovation Wing.
"The Father of the Video Game: The Ralph Baer Prototypes and Electronic Games - Introduction" showing 1 items.
- When most people think about the first video game, they think of Pong, the ping-pong arcade game released by Atari in 1972. However, months earlier, Magnavox had released its Magnavox Odyssey, a home video game system based on the “Brown Box,” a prototype invented by Ralph Baer. Additional games and accessories, like a lightgun, were sold in separate packages.
- Since the Odyssey had limited graphic capabilities and displayed only a few small white blocks and a vertical line on the screen, Magnavox included translucent color overlays to provide settings and layouts for the games. Perhaps most surprising to modern gamers, the Odyssey also came with nonelectronic game accessories such as dice, decks of cards, play money, and poker chips. These accessories were possibly included to make the Odyssey more like the physical games that existed at the time.
- With less than 200,000 units sold, Magnavox Odyssey was not considered a commercial success, especially in comparison with Pong’s runaway popularity. Among the contributing factors, poor marketing played a large role. Many potential consumers were under the impression—sometimes encouraged by Magnavox salesmen—that Odyssey would only work on Magnavox television sets. Despite these setbacks, Magnavox Odyssey made its mark by starting the video game console industry.
- Currently not on view
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- Baer, Ralph H.
- Magnavox Company
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- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center