The 'father of console games' has died, and games have grown up

It's pretty common to hear video games referred to as a 'young' industry or art form. It's less common for people to explain how they define youth for abstract entities that don't develop wrinkles or arthritis as they get on in years. One decent metric is how many of its pioneers are still alive - and by that math, video games grew older over the weekend. Ralph Baer, inventor of the Magnavox Odyssey and 'father of video games' died at 92 on Saturday.

Image viaInventor Portrait: Ralph Baer

Baer's creation was the first device that consumers could take home and plug into their TV screens to play a variety of games. He invented it in the '60s, though it didn't hit the market until 1972. Before you protest, no, it wasn't close to the first video game. That title could be given to Spacewar!, which was created in 1962, or Tennis for Two (depending on how much of a stickler you are about the term 'video'), which was made in 1958, or one of the military simulations or chess programs made in years before.

But the Magnavox Odyssey was, without question, the first video game console. It plugged in to your TV, it had controllers, it came with 12 games (imagine getting a PS4 packed in with a dozen titles), and it even had a light gun peripheral. Doesn't sound too different from the little boxes we have sitting under our TVs these days, give or take a few hundred gigabytes and a dozen buttons. Baer pioneered all of that before Atari's Pong home version hit the market in 1975.

In the next four decades, games exploded. Better technology allowed not only more impressive spectacles and engaging mechanics, but for games to run just about anywhere you could put a screen. No other entertainment medium has ever enjoyed that same degree of rapid growth, and to be honest, our collective heads are still spinning. But whether we realized it or not, video games are all grown up. They've still got plenty of stuff to learn and experiment with (like a college student with slightly less debt) but games are officially past their teenage years.

And that's great! It's healthy to trade the pimples and awkwardness of adolescence for the creaky joints and confidence of adulthood. So the next time you hear someone pooh-pooh games as a young industry/art form/whatever else, remind them that the father of video games passed away on December 6, 2014 at the grand old age of 92. Don't you think it would be a bit weird if his kids hadn't moved out of the house yet?


One of GR+'s news crew, Connor also writes features from time to time and does a lil' streamin'-streamin' on the side. Chrom is his husband and nothing will ever come between them.
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