Beatlemania, bell bottoms, Barbie and lava lamps dominate the top trends of the 1960s but woven in the 10 years that made up this time in history is a myriad of breakthroughs in gaming.
These breakthroughs, some founded in fear and necessity, allowed brilliant minds to program strategy and outcomes based on predetermined choices through war games and the interpretive strategy of a fearful opposition — invasion and annihilation.
And while war game programming began in the late 1950s, (read our piece on gaming history in the 1950s), we discovered in 1958, the arguable precursor to ‘Pong’ took shape in Tennis for Two — but in 1960, America’s favorite past time (baseball) began its digital ascension when John Burgeson, an IBM programmer took a sick day and started working on a computer baseball simulation.
Burgeson, along with his brother ran this simulation and demoed it one month later in January, 1961 (FYI — football followed a few years later, thanks to a Dartmouth student!).
Also in 1961, Raytheon, who still utilizes the tagline ‘Making the World a Safer Place,’ unveiled a Cold War simulation to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Still showcasing all conceived contingencies, this release was special — it took into account other options besides war — mainly arms control — but when brilliant scientific and programming minds attempted to break it down — ie train — the military, it proved to be too complex to use. So an analog release, ‘Grand Strategy,’ was created and turned over to Uncle Sam.
While the Joint Chiefs and defense companies focused on the ‘here and now’ threat of the 1960s, some brainiacs at MIT designed the first computer-based game — ‘Spacewar!’.
This creation, the brainchild of Steve Russell and a few of his fellow students, became the first computer video game to spread throughout the country — making way for gaming to become mainstream.
But while all of this is significant, perhaps the most significant gaming breakthrough began with two simple words. Hello World.
For programmers today, many coding tools still greet with these words. Why? In 1964 Dartmouth’s John G. Kemeny created the BASIC (Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) programming language, paving the creative highway between man and machine, allowing the imagination to soar from keyboard to screen as fast as one could calculate and type.
Thanks to BASIC, 1967-68 saw the conception, development and realization of the first television-based gaming systems, called ‘Odyssey.’ Magnavox jumped on it and released it, bringing gaming into homes in a decade filled with controversy and war.
Next up … the 70s bring us coin op games … you ready?
Note: Special thanks to Museum of Play and other sources linked within this piece. This information is truncated here, but the links take you to a more in-depth timeline. Check them out!