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It was the summer of ’72: American swimmer Mark Spitz brought home seven medals from the Summer Olympics in Munich, The Eagles made their self-titled album debut and the first real home video gaming system was set forth upon the world.

Thank you, Magnavox, for a new kind of peaceful, easy feeling you brought to gaming. Let’s take a walk down memory lane.

Innovative Dinosaur

The Magnavox Odyssey, the world’s first commercial gaming console, was prehistoric by any gaming standard. Marketed as a “closed-circuit electronic playground,” Odyssey’s graphics consisted of two blobs of light and a collection of plastic overlays stuck to your television screen by the magic of static electricity. With a little imagination, players could lose themselves in a not-so-fast-nor-furious game of addition. Coincidentally, the gamers depicted in the original television ad are a husband and wife in their 40s.

The Odyssey may have been a primitive beast, but it muscled through doors previously closed and kept gamers — well, Mom and Dad at least — awake at night and marveling at its state-of-the-art technology.

’80s Gamer

Flash forward to 1977, and Atari released their classic gaming system, the VCS, later renamed 2600. This may well be the system you cut your gaming teeth on. It brought joysticks, paddles and a number of cartridges containing popular home versions of arcade games such as “Space Invaders,” “Missile Command” and “Asteroids.” The console itself was lightweight and innovative. The paddles and joysticks were small and more compact than ever before.

And, unlike several of the Odyssey’s offerings, Atari games were actually fun.

Versions of the Atari 2600 and its sequel, the 5200, lasted into the early ’80s, until they finally began their steady fade into obscurity, thanks in part to slews of substandard games developed by third parties. Today, they rest collectors’ shelves and in desktop PCs as emulated versions of their former selves.

Popular Plumbers

While there were scores of other companies who released video gaming systems during the ’70s and early ’80s — including Coleco, Mattel and Milton Bradley — none would rival Atari in popularity. Then, in 1985, a pair of unassuming plumbers rose to stardom when called upon to rescue the lovely Princess Peach from the dark bowels of Bowser’s Castle. Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.” on Nintendo Entertainment System single-handedly revived the video game industry. Named the number one best console of all time by IGN, the NES smashed through walls previously unheard of with its eight-bit graphics and directional control pads.

Bit by Bit

Once Nintendo set the bar, the bit-race began, as developers fought to release systems with better and better graphics. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System debuted with 16-bit graphics, Sega’s Genesis and Sony’s Playstation at 32-bit, and Nintendo’s N64 at — you guessed it — 64-bit. Swift on their heels came the Sega Dreamcast, Sony PS2, Nintendo Gamecube and Microsoft’s Xbox, at 128-bit.

Consoles Today

Today, the video game console market is dominated by three manufacturers: Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. Each still competes to create the most powerful gaming system in home entertainment. Mostly when someone mentions gaming console today, your mind is drawn to three distinct possibilities, depending upon where your loyalty lies — Xbox 360, PS3 or the Nintendo Wii U.

But don’t get too attached.

Releasing just in time for the 2013 holiday shopping season, both Microsoft and Sony have announced their new consoles: the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, respectively. These powerhouses feature immersive gaming experiences, increased social interaction and instant streaming of downloadable content that includes games, movies and music. Couple these features with custom graphics processors and 500-gigabyte hard drives, and you have consoles that rival top-of-the-line gaming PCs for a fraction of the cost.

Speaking of PC Gamers

Developing in sync with console technology, PC gaming had its roots ensconced in the 1970s and ’80s as well. The first computer games that most people remember had to be typed into the computer manually, with the player acting as the actual programmer. These were super simple games. You found the code in a magazine, or a friend copied it down for you. When you got to a computer, you typed in the code that programmed the game — quite a bit of labor for an archaic version of a video game.

Luckily, today’s PC games bear little resemblance to their predecessors. In fact, the capabilities of high-end personal computers built with gaming in mind exceed even the most powerful gaming consoles in the marketplace. Even many laptops have fast processors to run graphic-intense games, glitch-free.

Future of Gaming

The future of gaming is expected to become increasingly digital. Motion controls and augmented reality are expected to play larger roles in the coming decades.

What is looming on the very near horizon is the possibility of home gaming without any sort of console at all — games will stream directly from the cloud — instantly and painlessly. You’ll carry your game out into the real world, and real-time backgrounds will mesh with the help of a small handheld device, making the whole world your closed circuit electronic playground — no overlays necessary.

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Author: Andy Quayle

Andy was born in the Isle of Man and currently lives in Pittsburgh.
Known globally as a willing source for tech news and views, Andy takes great pride in consultation and education.

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