Rise of Video and Computer Games Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the computer and video game industry rapidly expanded into a multibillion-dollar industry. As companies such as Nintendo, Sega, and Sony developed increasingly sophisticated software and hardware, games became faster, shifted into complex three-dimensional environments, and introduced many memorable digital characters.

Summary of Event

By the late 1970’s, mechanical arcade games had been joined by the first video and computer games. In 1971, Nolan K. Bushnell built Computer Space, the first coin-operated arcade video game. Bushnell founded Atari Atari in 1972 and created Pong, the game that launched the video arcade industry. Also in 1972, Ralph Baer’s television gaming technology enabled the Magnavox Odyssey, Magnavox;Odyssey video game console the first video game console for the home. In 1977, Bushnell released the Atari VCS (later renamed the Atari 2600), the first multigame home console, which included plug-in cartridges and the first joystick in a home system. Games were also developed for the Apple II, Apple II computer[Apple two computer] the first successful personal home computer. Video games Computing, applied;games Games, computer and video Computers;games [kw]Rise of Video and Computer Games (1980’s-1990’s) [kw]Video and Computer Games, Rise of (1980’s-1990’s) [kw]Computer Games, Rise of Video and (1980’s-1990’s) [kw]Games, Rise of Video and Computer (1980’s-1990’s) Video games Computing, applied;games Games, computer and video Computers;games [g]North America;1980’s-1990’s: Rise of Video and Computer Games[03920] [g]East Asia;1980’s-1990’s: Rise of Video and Computer Games[03920] [g]United States;1980’s-1990’s: Rise of Video and Computer Games[03920] [g]Japan;1980’s-1990’s: Rise of Video and Computer Games[03920] [c]Computers and computer science;1980’s-1990’s: Rise of Video and Computer Games[03920] [c]Trade and commerce;1980’s-1990’s: Rise of Video and Computer Games[03920] [c]Travel and recreation;1980’s-1990’s: Rise of Video and Computer Games[03920] Bushnell, Nolan K. Yokoi, Gunpei Miyamoto, Shigeru Rosen, David Wright, Will Iwatani, Toru Miller, Rand Miller, Robyn

By 1980, video games had become products for mass consumption, and 1980 saw the release of one hundred new games, the largest number up to that time. One of the most popular games of the 1980’s was Space Invaders, Space Invaders (game) created in 1978 by Tomohiro Nishikado. Nishikado, Tomohiro Displayed on a monochrome monitor, the game featured horizontally scrolling rows of invading spaceships that could be shot by the player, who defended from the bottom of the screen. In 1980 Space Invaders was released as an Atari VCS cartridge, causing Atari sales to soar. This cleverly designed game inspired other games, such as Missile Command and Defender.

The year 1980 also saw the birth of the first digital superstar and central game character with his own name, Pac-Man (originally named Puck Man). Game creator Toru Iwatani’s inspiration for Pac-Man was a pizza with a slice missing. While being pursed by monsters, this cute character ate dots as it crawled through a maze. As the Pac-Man Pac-Man (game)[Pacman (game)] game became immensely popular, the Pac-Man character became a cultural icon licensed for toys, children’s lunch boxes, and other products. The game was nonviolent but exciting, appealing to female as well as to male players. A variation on the original game was Ms. Pac-Man, the first video game with a female main character (her gender suggested only by a few pixels of hair ribbon and lipstick).

In 1981, Nintendo Nintendo released Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong (game) created by Shigeru Miyamoto. This game introduced the enormously popular “Mario” character. Miyamoto, considered one of the most creative game designers of the era, produced the best-selling, scrolling-platform game Super Mario Brothers Super Mario Brothers (game) in 1985. The next year, Nintendo released Miyamoto’s The Legend of Zelda, Legend of Zelda, The (game) a game combining role-playing and puzzles with action; it quickly became a classic.

The success of these games tied in with the rising sales of the new faster Nintendo game systems. Engineer Gunpei Yokoi helped develop the Famicom 8-bit color graphics home console, which was released in Japan in 1984 and then released as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the United States in 1986.

In direct competition with Nintendo was Sega, Sega a company founded by David Rosen in 1965. In 1989, Sega introduced Sega Genesis, the first 16-bit home system. In response, Nintendo introduced its own 16-bit home console, the Super NES, in 1990. Meanwhile, in 1989, Yokoi had invented the Nintendo Game Boy, Game Boy which outsold other handheld game consoles. Corporate rivalries between the leading game manufacturers were manifested even in game characters: Sega developed the character of Sonic the Hedgehog to counter Nintendo’s adored Mario character.

In 1995, Sega released its expensive Saturn system, the first 32-bit compact disc-based console, but the less expensive Sony PlayStation Sony Corporation PlayStation[Playstation] sold better. The next year, Nintendo launched its Nintendo 64, the first 64-bit system. In 1999, Sega introduced the Sega Dreamcast Dreamcast system, which came complete with a built-in modem to allow online play. The superior Dreamcast was the top-selling game console until Sony launched its PlayStation 2 in 2000. PlayStation 2 was the first console to include DVD technology and to have better graphics than a personal computer. Unable to compete with the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 2, Sega discontinued selling game hardware in 2000.

As the hardware for video games developed during the 1980’s and 1990’s, software also became more sophisticated. Sports-simulation, shooting, and maze games continued to be popular, but many additional themes appeared. Along with action and strategy, role-playing became an important aspect of game design. Another new genre that matured during the 1980’s was known as edutainment—the combination of education and entertainment. An early leader in this area was Brøderbund Software, Brøderbund Software creator of MasterType (1983) and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (1985), considered one of the best education games ever designed.

As personal computers became increasingly powerful, the game industry developed many titles specifically for this environment, as opposed to home consoles and arcade stations. However, the most popular games were often developed for multiple platforms.

In 1993, personal computer games became more popular as CD-ROM technology proliferated. Rand Miller and his brother Robyn Miller created the CD-ROM game Myst, Myst (game) which set a new standard for game graphics and generated a new genre of nonviolent adventure games for single players. Myst and its sequels eventually sold more than twelve million copies.

The genre of the shooting game was reinvigorated in 1993 with Doom, Doom (game) by Id Software. This extremely violent game utilized “side-scrolling” three-dimensional graphics to immerse players and give them the impression of running through tunnels, looking around corners, jumping, running, and so on. The appearance of Doom created the new subgenre that became known as the first-person shooter game; Doom spawned many imitations.

Another genre that became popular in the 1990’s was the “God game,” in which the player directs the fate of large groups of characters from an omnipotent perspective. Although not the first in this genre, Will Wright’s SimCity, SimCity (game)[Simcity] released in 1989, saw record sales in the 1990’s. In this game, the user could build an entire urban environment and manage that environment as it evolved over time. A whole series of Sims games followed, and all became best sellers.

With the maturation of the World Wide Web in the 1990’s, games were increasingly played online. Although media elements were limited by bandwidth, game designers could distribute their work more freely than ever before and could challenge the big companies with free or inexpensive games. Many variations of the early arcade games reappeared in this new setting. In addition to downloadable games, some games could be played on the Internet through the use of plug-ins for Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer, and other Web browsers.


The economic growth of video and computer games continued into the twenty-first century. In 2006, overall U.S. video game sales reached $13.5 billion. Game console wars also continued, as a three-way battle. In 2005, Microsoft released its Xbox 360. In November, 2006, Sony released its PlayStation 3 and Nintendo launched the Wii console. The Wii includes a unique wireless remote controller that permits players to use physical gestures to control the action in games.

Along with their increasing popularity and profitability from the 1980’s onward, video and computer games began to raise concerns among some observers about the social and psychological effects these games might have on players. After the 1992 release of Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat (game) a particularly violent game, some controversy arose, and in 1993 the U.S. Senate launched an investigation into video game violence. As a result of the Senate hearings, the video game makers’ trade association established the Entertainment Software Rating Board in 1994 to provide ratings for games and warning labels to guide parents in purchasing games for their children.

In addition to concerns about players’ psychological health and social isolation, questions were raised about the possibility that excessive video game playing could lead to physical problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries as well as eyestrain. Many observers also, however, pointed out the benefits of playing, which they asserted include intellectual stimulation, reflex development, and cognitive development.

As video and computer games matured, they also became a new mode of expression for visual artists, filmmakers, musicians, and writers. The question of whether video games constitute an art form, the ways these games both reflect and act on culture, and their effects on individuals have continued to be subjects of academic research as well as popular debate. Video games Computing, applied;games Games, computer and video Computers;games

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">DeMaria, Rusel, and Johnny L. Wilson. High Score! The Illustrated History of Electronic Games. 2d ed. Berkeley, Calif.: McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2004. Comprehensive, beautifully illustrated volume presents the full history of computer and video games. Includes index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gee, James Paul. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Controversial work discusses the positive cognitive value of video games. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Juul, Jesper. Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005. Compelling study connects video games to traditional games. Includes illustrations, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kent, Steven. The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon—The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001. Fascinating chronicle presents commentary from hundreds of interviews and offers fun facts. Illustrated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">King, Lucien. Game On: The History and Culture of Videogames. New York: Universe, 2002. Discusses the social and psychological aspects of video games. Includes illustrations and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolf, Mark J. P., ed. The Medium of the Video Game. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001. Collection of scholarly essays covers topics such as time, space, and narrative in the video game. Includes illustrations, bibliography, and index.

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Release of Netscape Navigator 1.0

Rise of the Internet and the World Wide Web

Categories: History