The History of Video Games
Video games have evolved over the past fifty years into one of the most popular forms of modern media entertainment. This week on our program, we explore the history of video games and look at some popular releases from the past year.
In nineteen sixty-two, a team of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a game called Spacewar! It had a big influence on future games. But it could only be played on a computer at MIT.
Back in the nineteen sixties, an engineer named Ralph Baer started work on an idea. He wanted to turn television sets in every home into a gaming device. His work resulted in the development of the Magnavox Odyssey, a video-game console for home use. The system was released in nineteen seventy-two and came with twelve games.
But it was hard to compete against Atari. Atari's video game system became the most successful on the American market. And it stayed that way until the market crashed briefly in nineteen eighty-three.
By that point, another company had established itself as a big name in gaming: Nintendo. The Japanese company was not new at making games. It began in the nineteenth century as a producer of traditional playing cards.
Nintendo also began developing arcade games, and then game systems that could be played at home. One of the most influential programmers in the world works for Nintendo. Shigeru Miyamoto helped create hits like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda.
In two thousand six Nintendo released its first Wii system. The Wii was not like a traditional video game. It was the first wireless system that could capture the movements of the player's body. This way people could play sports against the game or against another person without ever leaving the house.
AJ GLASSER: “It's open world in the way that Grand Theft Auto is, so you play a character that can go almost anywhere, and do almost anything. But it's set in the Wild West, so you are doing it with horses.”
AJ GLASSER: “It's no longer just the twelve- to twenty-one-year-old boys that want to shoot up people or just solve puzzles. It's everyone wants to play a little bit. So they try to make games for everyone, or at least make games that don't forbid anyone from enjoying them.”
Ryota Wada is a ten-year-old boy who recently moved with his family from Tokyo to Herndon, Virginia, outside Washington. Ryota is listed in the twenty eleven Gamer's Edition of Guinness World Records. He received a perfect score on the most difficult level of Dance Dance Revolution.
But is it healthy to spend so much time playing video games? The journal Pediatrics recently published a new study. Researchers studied about three thousand students in Singapore for two years. The study found that children who played video games "obsessively" had higher rates of depression, social fears and stress. Of course, that observation alone does not prove that video games cause mental illness.
Other studies have linked violence in video games to aggressive behavior. In nineteen ninety-three American lawmakers pressured the video game industry to develop a rating system. Since then the industry has rated games based on the age group for which they are considered acceptable.
The researchers said girls who played video games with a parent behaved better, felt more connected to their families and had stronger mental health. Said researcher Laura Padilla-Walker: “We're guessing it's a daddy-daughter thing, because not a lot of moms said yes when we asked them if they played video games."
Mobile phones and other devices have created big competition for the handheld video-game industry. People might wonder why they need to buy a device like Sony's PlayStation Portable or Nintendo's DS player. Games that can be downloaded to a phone cost a lot less than games for those handheld players.
For example, the game Angry Birds is a huge hit on the Apple iPhone and other devices. Players launch birds to try to crush their enemies, the fat green pigs. The game is easy enough for children yet difficult enough to keep adults interested. The game has been downloaded tens of millions of times around the world.
A market research company reported an early estimate of fifteen and a half billion dollars in sales of all games content in the United States last year. The NPD Group said that was about the same as the year before.
The new handheld game player, the Nintendo 3DS, offers three-dimensional images that do not require special glasses. The 3-D technology is not for everyone, though. The company warns that children six years old and younger should not play its games in 3-D mode. Experts say looking at the images for long periods of time could damage young eyes.
Sony is also working on new handheld game devices. In late January, the company announced its next-generation portable entertainment system. The system does not have a name yet but it will have a touch screen, two cameras and 3G wireless service. The system is expected to be released by the end of the year, offering another example of the continuing evolution of video games.
Our program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Christopher Cruise. Our programs are online with transcripts and MP3s at voaspecialenglish.com — where you can also tell us what video games you like and how often you play. You can also post comments on our Facebook wall at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.