The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to PlayStation and Beyond

The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to PlayStation and Beyond

The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to PlayStation and Beyond

The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to PlayStation and Beyond


"The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to PlayStation and Beyond" traces the growth of a global phenomenon that has become an integral part of popular culture today. All aspects of video games and gaming culture are covered inside this engaging reference, including the leading video game innovators, the technological advances that made the games of the late 1970s and those of today possible, the corporations that won and lost billions of dollars pursing this lucrative market, arcade culture, as well as the demise of free-standing video consoles and the rise of home-based and hand-held gaming devices.

In the United States alone, the video game industry raked in an astonishing $12.5 billion last year, and shows no signs of slowing. Once dismissed as a fleeting fad of the young and frivolous, this booming industry has not only proven its staying power, but promises to continue driving the future of new media and emerging technologies. Today video games have become a limitless and multifaceted medium through which Fortune 50 corporations and Hollywood visionaries alike are reaching broader global audiences and influencing cultural trends at a rate unmatched by any other media.


In less than four decades video games have gone from simple bouncing block graphics to a global industry of enormous proportions. In 2006 alone, the U.S. video game industry made a record $12.5 billion. Video games have a growing influence on other media like film, television, and the Internet and are played by hundreds of millions worldwide. And yet the study of video games has only recently gained acceptance in academia, and most of the writing that exists is mostly about newer games, and typically home computer games at that. Relatively little has appeared regarding older games and game systems, arcade games, or video game history in general. Part of the reason is that many of the old games are already gone or very hard to find and play; although this may make writing about them more difficult, it also suggests a greater need for historical research, before it is too late.

Before we look at the history of video games, it is useful to ask what exactly we mean by the term “video game,” and how it is distinct from other media forms. At the same time, we also can look at the precursors and influences that shaped the video game and gave it the form that it has. As the video game is very dependent on different types of technology, these will be examined as well, including imaging technologies and modes of exhibition through which video games are brought to the public. Finally, an examination of the study of video games itself, and how it differs from the study of traditional media forms, is included. Together, these chapters provide the necessary background from which a study of video game history can begin.

What exactly constitutes a “video game”? Although the term seems simple enough, its usage has varied a great deal over the years and from place to place. We might start by noting the two criteria present in the name itself; its status as a “game” and its use of “video” technology. (These two aspects of video games may be reason for why one finds both “video game” (two words) and “videogame” (one word) in use: considered as a game, “video game” is consistent with “board game” and “card game,” whereas if one considers it as another type of video technology, then “videogame” is consistent with terms like “videotape” and “videodisc.” Terms like “computer games” and “electronic games” are also sometimes used synonymously with “video games,” but distinctions between them can be made. “Electronic games” and “computer games” both do not require any visuals, while “video games” would not require a microprocessor (or whatever one wanted to define as being essential to being referred to as a “computer”). Thus, a board game like Stop Thief (1979), for example, which has a handheld computer that makes sounds that relate to game play on the board, could be considered a computer game, but not a video game. More of these kinds of games exist than games that involve video but not a computer, making “video games” the more exclusive term. The term “video games” is also more accurate in regard to what kinds of games are meant when the term is used in common parlance, and so it will be the term used here.

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