first video game tennis for twoToday’s gaming vloggers owe a lot to a nuclear physicist.

On Oct. 18, 1958, during Brookhaven National Laboratory’s annual visitors’ day, attendees played “Tennis for Two,” considered by many to be the world’s first video game. Brookhaven physicist William Higinbotham had invented the game to liven up what he viewed as the lab’s static and boring exhibits. The game ran on a small analog computer and used a five-inch oscilloscope screen with a cathode-ray tube for a display. Players saw a side view of a tennis court and used controllers with dials to control the “ball”—simple from today’s perspective, but unprecedented in 1958. Hundreds of visitors stood in line to play the game.

Later versions of Tennis for Two used a larger oscilloscope screen and allowed players to experience tennis “on the moon” (with low gravity) and “on Jupiter” (with high gravity). After two years, Higinbotham moved on from Tennis for Two, creating a new exhibit to demonstrate cosmic rays passing through a spark chamber.

Video game controversy

Whether Tennis for Two can rightfully be called the world’s first video game is a matter of some debate. In 1948, Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle R. Mann obtained a patent for the “Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device.” Although similar in concept to Tennis for Two, Goldsmith and Mann’s creation required players to overlay illustrations in front of a screen, whereas Tennis for Two featured an all-in-one display. Others contend Tennis for Two cannot be called a “video game” because it lacked a video signal.

Still, Tennis for Two was video game enough to be involved in future patent litigation. Higinbotham testified in a dispute over a Magnavox patent, but the case was settled out of court. Higinbotham himself didn’t patent Tennis for Two—he had created the game as a government employee, so it belonged to the U.S. government.


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Tech Time Warp is a weekly feature that looks back at interesting moments and milestones in tech history.

Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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