Video Games that Changed the World

We take video games for granted today, but prior to the 1970s they didn't exist as consumer products. The earliest video games were very crude, but some of them had elements that would become common features in the games we enjoy today.

Here are some of the classic arcade and home video games that reshaped the industry and the way we play.

  • Pong: The arcade game that launched the Atari corporation was driven by a circuit board rather than a computer chip. Pong allowed two players to square off in a virtual game of tennis by hitting a white dot with two rectangular dots. Magnavox had already created a version of the game for home play, but Atari's arcade machine proved that the public would pay a quarter a game for the chance to play. Released in 1972, Pong was one of a handful of video games that seemed more like a novelty in arcades crowded with pinball machines.
  • Space Invaders: In 1978, Taito of Japan and Bally Midway in the United States released what would become the most successful arcade machine of all time. In Space Invaders, you shoot unending waves of aliens until you run out of lives, a basic premise still in use today. This open-ended gameplay rewarded skilled players by allowing them to go for several minutes at a time on a single quarter, unlike earlier games that had strict time limits. Space Invaders added the concept of winning additional lives by getting a certain number of points, as well as the idea of progressive difficulty to challenge skilled players.
  • Pac-Man: Two years after Space Invaders, Midway brought the next big craze to American shores: Namco's Pac-Man. A simple game about munching on dots and running through a maze took the United States by storm because the characters had personality. Pac-Man himself was little more than a yellow dot, but his four ghost pursuers had animated eyes and unique personalities and movements. Pac-Man also offered intermissions between certain levels, the first example of the cut scenes found in current video games.
  • Donkey Kong: One year after Pac-Man, Nintendo added some new ideas to video games with the arcade hit Donkey Kong. This game introduced a new form of game play, known as platforming, where the player had to execute perfectly timed jumps to reach different levels and avoid enemies. It also introduced the concept of different levels in a game that offered different challenges to players. Created by respected game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, Donkey Kong wasn't the first Nintendo arcade machine, but it was the one that built the company's fortune and reputation.
  • Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin: Released for the Mattel Intellivision in 1983, this game is one of the earliest first-person shooters. In it, the player wanders through levels of a maze, seeking weapons and spell books and encountering randomly placed monsters. Fights were turn-based rather than real time, but this game had all of the other elements of first-person shooters, including the ability to get better weapons and more strength as you advanced through the game and a boss monster that took a combination of strategy, strength and the proper weapons to defeat.
  • Final Fantasy: In 1987 Square Enix gambled the last of their capital on a new type of video game, known as a role-playing game. Based heavily on the mechanics of Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy put the player in control of four characters who wandered an open world in their quest to destroy a demon. Along the way, there are scripted, text-based interactions with non-player characters, rare weapons to find and the opportunity to increase the four characters' strength by fighting random monsters and fearsome boss enemies. Although the game favored strategy over fast-paced shooting or jumping, it became a huge hit whose system of leveling can be found in many different video game genres today.
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