Friday, 1 November 2013

Computer Games History Part 1 - From counting to computers

According to the definition, a computer is an 'electronic machine that performs high-speed mathematical or logical operations'. I'm not too sure about how important the 'high-speed' part of that definition is, because I'm pretty sure my laptop is a computer device and it's anything but fast. However, the idea of a computer simply being a device which works out mathematical calculations for us provides the understanding that a computer must, in effect, originate where mathematics did. After all, without the maths to coordinate the machine, there wouldn't be a machine, and without the machine there wouldn't be anything to play our beloved games on.

Following on from this, my belief is that the origins of modern computing today find themselves all the way back in 50,000 B.C when the first evidence for counting was found. Of course they weren't sitting round building hard-drives at this time or even working with any computer equipment at all, but the simple fact they began to count shows that the foundations for the programming of our current machines were being put into place. Some 20,000 years later, Paleolithic people in Europe were found to be recording their counting by carving into bits of bone or stone. And so here we see an example of man's attempt to store the calculations they were making, just like the memory on a computer or a save file of some game play. I enjoy the fact that it was in Europe that this sort of evidence was found as, let's be honest, we've never really seemed like the forefathers of many feats in the computing world, but we've claimed this one.

I think it's also important to mention, before I whizz too far into the future, that over on the other side of the world, China to be precise, in 2600 B.C the abacus was invented. I for one do not know a great deal about the functions of an abacus, being rather poor at anything mathematical myself, but I do know that it's basically a 'thing' that helps you work out 'things', like an antique calculator. However, the importance of this is that it basically is one of the first times basic maths is put into a device to then do all the hard work for you, just like a computer would do. What I find even more interesting and shows influence to our technology today, is that in 300 B.C the abacus was then made into a hand-held size, in order for people to transport the abacus around with them and just be more accessible in general. This whole thinking behind this innovation is the exact logic we have today when developing consoles, computers and technology and general.

Abacus (Image courtesy of

So, which part of the technology timeline will I choose next? Well I'm going to skip a couple of thousands years and plot myself right where computers really started to get interesting, as most of the mentionable machines between this gap, such as Babbage's Difference Engine which had him named 'the father of the computer', had been covered in the presentation we received to brief us on this blog post. Instead I'm choosing when Zonrad Huse produced the the Z1 computer in 1936, which was the first freely programmable computer. This flexibility would have begun to lead people to be a bit more creative with the programming process, and where creativity lies, games and art come close behind.

Z1 Computer in 1936 (Image courtesy of

Another part in time which interests me regarding computing, and this time more specifically gaming itself, is when Willy Higinbotham 'accidentally' invented an interactive table-tennis game to keep his visitors to his labs in New York entertained. I love the fact he didn't even patent it because he wasn't even sure he'd invented anything, but he'd made such an innovation regarding the gaming world without even having a clue that he had done. It's strange how our society now would never be like this now. As soon as something new is created, it's merchandised, labelled, patented and sent off around the world to be forced into every home possible. Whereas he was a humble man who just wanted people to enjoy a game to make sure they didn't snooze off whilst visiting the Brookhaven National Laboratories. 

Willy Higinbotham Tennis for Two Game (Image courtesy of

That development shows how games are increasingly becoming something which is just seen as a money making prospect, and I just find it strange to think that years and years ago people were simply scratching marks onto sticks to represent numbers, and now those numbers have been fashioned into programmes which run games for people to spend numbered notes on. So, in effect, the numbers which map out our lives also map out our gaming world today, and that all came from the development of the machines and devices I've discussed, and many others I'm sure.

Bibliography -

The History Of Video Games, By Leonard Herman, Jer Horwitz, Steve Kent and Skyler Miller, Originally published on Gamespot, Copyright 2002

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