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Computer and video games

Formally, a computer game is a game composed of a computer-controlled virtual universe that players may interact with in order to achieve a goal (or set of goals). A video game is a computer game where a video display is the primary feedback device.

However, in common usage "computer game" refers to games played on a personal computer, while "video game" (or "videogame") refers to games played on a video game console. Both "computer games" and "video games" are frequently used as umbrella terms for interactive game software. To avoid ambiguity, this game software is referred to as "computer and video games".


Game may refer to either the virtual universe and all of its governing rules ("Nethack is a game"), or a particular instance of that game ("my game ended in yet another annoying death", "game over"). Typically, a new instance of a game's universe is created by selection of a "new game" option, while previous instances and player states are retrieved with "load game" or "continue".

A game is composed of a computer-controlled virtual universe that players interact with. Player input is taken through various types of controls, and output is usually given through a screen and sound devices. Video game consoles usually utilize an input device called a controller, which contains a number of buttons and one or two analog sticks. Games played upon home computers may utilize a keyboard, mouse, or joystick (usually in some combination). The input is proccessed by the game and output is presented, usually on a television or computer monitor.


Gameplay includes all player experiences during the interaction with game systems, especially formal games. Proper use is coupled with reference to "what the player does" and how well they enjoy that experience.

Main article: Game play


Pilotwings 64 is a flight simulator, one of the many genres of computer and video games.
Pilotwings 64 is a flight simulator, one of the many genres of computer and video games.

Games, like most other forms of media, may be categorized into genres based on gameplay, atmosphere, and various other factors.

The atmosphere or setting of a video games can often be described as historical, urban, near-future, sci-fi, comic book, gothic, mythology, fantasy, or cartoony. Some game developers eschew traditional settings so their games stand out (e.g. Rez, Psychonauts, Katamari Damacy).

Most gamers favor certain categories of gameplay over others. These could include sports, racing, third person shooters, first person shooters (FPS), fighting, action, adventure, stealth, role-playing games (RPG), card-based, puzzle, platformers, simulation, strategy, or various combinations. Overhead and side-scrolling 2D games could also be considered of a different gameplay genre than 3D games (e.g. Super Mario Bros. vs. Super Mario 64).

Main article: Computer and video game genres

Gaming platforms

Grand Theft Auto 3 is an example of a game that is popular as a video game as well as a computer game.
Grand Theft Auto 3 is an example of a game that is popular as a video game as well as a computer game.

Today there are many different devices that games may be played on. Personal computers, consoles, handheld systems, and arcade machines are all common. There is a thin line between games played on the computer and those on the console in terms of genre.

Many games intended for computers are now just as prevalent on consoles, both of which have many of the same selections of titles. This is due to the fact that video game consoles have drastically increased in computing power and capabilities over the last few years to the point that they can handle games that were formerly only playable with computers. With the release of Microsoft's Xbox console, which was based on PC architecture, and which was developed with online gameplay in mind, most major computer game releases coincide with the release of console versions. However, popular titles initially developed for a single platform are often "ported" to another platform. Recent examples include id's Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Windows to Xbox) and Bungie's blockbuster first person shooter, Halo (Developed for the Mac, then bought to be released for Xbox and then (re)-ported to Mac and Windows). The Entertainment Software Association reported that console games outsold computer games in the US by about 380% in 2003 (do note that this number does not represent popularity, and that fees such as those for paid MMORPGs are excluded).

Personal computer games

Personal computer games are commonly referred to as "computer games" or "PC games". They are played on the personal computer with standard computer interface devices such as the keyboard and mouse. Video feedback is received by the user through the computer screen, sound through speakers or headphones. Computer games are often more powerful than console games because of early market releases of their external architecture and graphics cards.

Today, most PC games require the Windows operating system to be installed on the computer. There is, however, a continuing movement to get the most popular games to run under the Mac and Linux operating systems.

Console games

Console games are more commonly referred to as "video games". They are played on a computer specially made for game play called a video game console. The player interacts with the game through a controller. Video and sound are delivered to the player via a television or, as with newer video game consoles, high-definition video monitors. Previous generations of personal computers, such as the Commodore 64, were commonly connected to televisions and even today share naming conventions and devices such as the Sony PlayStation 2 Computer Entertainment System, or the Sega Dreamcast's keyboard and mouse peripherals. There are also games on portable systems, such as the Nintendo Game Boy, Nintendo DS, Sony PSP, and the common cellphone which have their own, built-in video display. Computer games are more commonly played on multi-purpose operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, the Macintosh Operating System, or Linux.

Arcade games

Arcade games are coin-operated games played on a standalone device originally leased to commercial entertainment venues. These are programmed, equipped, and decorated for a specific game, consisting of a video display, a set of controls, and the coin slot. Controls range from the classic joystick and buttons, to light guns, to pads on the ground that sense pressure. Arcade games that are no longer profitable to lease can be purchased by private individuals, many of whom then explore the game dynamics by altering the programs.

Internet games

Internet games are those which require a connection to the Internet to play. Internet gaming was originally an offshoot from personal computer games but may be considered a platform in itself due to its growing scope and the inclusion of internet capabilities in modern consoles. See Internet gaming.


Although the history of computer and video games spans almost five decades, computer and video games themselves did not become part of the popular culture until the late 1970s.

The 1950s

Three people are usually cited as the sole inventor of video games. The first is television engineer Ralph Baer, who conceived the idea of an interactive television while employed by Loral Electronics in 1951 in Bronx, New York. No game was produced because his employer rejected the design, but he continued this early work 15 years later.

A.S. Douglas developed OXO, a graphical version of noughts and crosses (tic-tac-toe), in 1952 at the University of Cambridge in order to demonstrate his thesis on human-computer interaction. It was played on the now archaic EDSAC computer, which used a cathode ray tube for a visual display. In spite of its technological antiquity, the game is still playable on an emulator available on the Internet. OXO is the first known graphical game to run on a computer.

Many people attribute the invention of the video game to William Higinbotham, who in 1958 created a game called Tennis For Two on an oscilloscope to entertain visitors at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. Unlike Pong and similar early games, Tennis For Two shows a simplified tennis court from the side. The ball is affected by gravity and must be played over the net. The game is played with two bulky controllers each equipped with a knob for trajectory and a button for firing the ball over the net. Tennis For Two was exhibited for two seasons before its dismantling in 1959.

The 1960s

Many of the earliest computer games ran on university mainframes in the United States and were developed by individual users who programmed them in their idle time. However, the limited accessibility of early computer hardware meant that these games were few and easily forgotten by posterity.

In 1961, a group of students at MIT, including Steve Russell, programmed a game called Spacewar on the then-new DEC PDP-1. The game pitted two human players against each other, each controlling a space ship capable of firing missiles. A black hole in the center created a large gravitational field and another source of hazard. This game was soon distributed with new DEC computers and traded throughout primitive cyberspace. Presented at the MIT Science Open House in 1962, it was the first widely available and influential game.

One of the developers of Multics, Ken Thompson, continued to develop the operating system after AT&T stopped funding it. His work focused on development of the OS for the GE-645 mainframe. He actually wanted to play a game he was writing called Space Travel. Though the game was never released commercially (and apparently costing $75 per go on the mainframe), the game's development led to the invention of the UNIX operating system.

In 1966, Ralph Baer (then at Sanders Associates) created a simple video game called Chase that could be displayed on a standard television set. Baer continued development, and in 1968 he had a prototype that could play several different games, including versions of table tennis and target shooting. Under Baer, Bill Harrison developed the light gun and, with Bill Rusch, created video games in 1967.

The 1970s

In 1971, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney created a coin-operated arcade version of Spacewar and called it Computer Space. Nutting Associates bought the game, hired Bushnell, and manufactured 1,500 Computer Space machines. The game was not a success because many people found it difficult to play.

As Bushnell felt he did not receive enough pay by licensing games to other manufacturers, he founded his own company, Atari, in 1972. The first arcade video game with widespread success was Atari's Pong, released the same year. The game is loosely based around table tennis: two players each control a "paddle" which has the freedom to move up and down at their end of the "court". A ball is "served" from the center of the court and as the ball moves towards their side of the court each player must maneuver their bat to hit the ball back to their opponent. Atari sold 19,000 Pong machines, and soon many imitators followed. The coin-operated arcade video game craze had begun.

University mainframe game development continued to accelerate in the early 1970's, although the game designers of the time saw the activity as a hobby, not the prequel to an industry. There were at least two major distribution networks for the student game designers of this time:

The gaming traditions in the early 1970's ran independently in parallel on these two separate systems, since any given school typically had access to only one brand of hardware and one supply of shared games.

Highlights of this period, in chronological order, include:

In 1971 Don Daglow wrote the first computer baseball game on a PDP-10 mainframe while he was a student at Pomona College. Players could manage individual games or simulate an entire season. Daglow went on to team with programmer Eddie Dombrower to design Earl Weaver Baseball, published by Electronic Arts in 1987, which was the first commercial computer game to simulate a full season. Daglow also wrote one of several popular early Star Trek games for the PDP-10 during 1971-72.

In 1972 Gregory Yob wrote "Hunt the Wumpus" for the PDP-10, a hide-and-seek game, though it could be considered the first text adventure. Yob wrote it in reaction to existing hide-and-seek games such as Hurkle, Mugwump, and Snark.

In 1975, Will Crowther wrote the first text adventure game as we would recognize it today, Adventure (originally called ADVENT, and later Colossal Cave). It was programmed in Fortran for the PDP-10. The player controls the game through simple sentence-like text commands and receives descriptive text as output.

In 1976 Daglow, then a student at Claremont Graduate University, wrote what may be the first Computer Role Playing Game, "Dungeon". The game ran on PDP-10 mainframes, and was an unlicensed implementation of the new role playing game Dungeons and Dragons, and described the movements of a multi-player party through a monster-inhabited dungeon. Players chose what actions to take in combat and where to move each character in the party, which made the game very slow to play by today's standards. Characters earned experience points and gained skills as their "level" grew, as in D&D. Although the game was nominally played entirely in text, it was also the first game to use "line of sight graphics displays." In this case the graphics consisted of top-down dungeon maps that showed the portions of the playfield that the party had seen, allowing for light or darkness, the different vision of elves and dwarves, etc.

This advancement was possible because earlier games typically printed the game status for the player on teletype machines or a line printer, at speeds ranging from 10 to 30 characters per second with a rat-a-tat-tat sound as a metal ball or belt with characters was pressed against the paper through an inked ribbon by a hammer. By the mid-1970's many university computer terminals had switched to CRT screens, which could be refreshed with text in a few seconds instead of a minute or more.

At about the same time, the RPG dnd first appeared on the PLATO system CDC computers on other colleges.

The original Zork, started in 1977, was written by Dave Lebling, Marc Blank, Tim Anderson, and Bruce Daniels. Unlike other early game designers, the Zork team recognized the potential to move these games to the new personal computers and make money from their work, and they founded text adventure publisher Infocom in 1979. The company had a string of text adventure hits until the format was supplanted by graphic adventures in the mid-1980's, and the company was later sold to Activision. In a classic case of one designer inspiring another, Lebling was a member of the same D&D group as Wil Crowther, but not at the same time. Lebling has been quoted as saying "I think I actually replaced him when we dropped out. Zork was 'derived' from Advent in that we played Advent, liked it, wished it were better, and tried to do a 'better' one. There was no code borrowed, or anything like that, and we didn't meet either Crowther or Woods until much later."

Exidy's Death Race (1976) sparked the first controversy over gratuitous violence in a video game, because the object of the game was to run over "gremlins"—who looked more like pedestrians—with a car. The controversy increased public awareness of video games and has never ceased to be debated.

The first home video games (1972-1977)

1972 also saw the release of the first video game console for the home market, the Magnavox Odyssey. Built using mainly analog electronics, it was based on Ralph Baer's earlier work and licensed from his employer. The console was connected to a home television set. It was not a large success, although other companies with similar products (including Atari) had to pay a licensing fee for some time. It wasn't until Atari's home version of Pong (at first under the Sears Tele-Games label) in Christmas of 1975 that home video games really took off. The success of Pong sparked hundreds of clone games, including the Coleco Telstar, which went on to be a success in its own right, with over a dozen models.

Early handheld games

The first portable, handheld electronic game was Tic Tac Toe, made in 1972 by a company called Waco. The display consisted of a grid of nine buttons, that could turn red or green when pushed. The first handheld game console with interchangeable cartridges was the Microvision designed by Smith Engineering, and distributed and sold by Milton-Bradley in 1979. Crippled by a small, fragile LCD display and a very narrow selection of games, it was discontinued two years later. Although neither would prove popular, they paved the way for more advanced single-game handhelds, often simply called "LED games" or "LCD games" depending on their display system.

Mattel's 1977 LED electronic football game ushered in a short golden age of LED handheld games, especially sports games. At first composed of simple arrangements of LED bulbs, later games incorporated vacuum fluorescent displays allowing for detailed graphics in bright colors. The heyday of LED and VFD would last until the early 80s, when LCD technology became cheap and durable enough to be a viable alternative.

Dawn of a golden age

Main article: Golden age of arcade games

The arcade game industry entered its Golden Age in 1978 with the release of Space Invaders by Taito. This game was a runaway blockbuster hit that inspired dozens of manufacturers to enter the market and produce their own video games. The Golden Age was marked by a prevalence of arcades and new color arcade games that continued until the 1980s or 1990s.

Also in 1978, Atari released Asteroids, its biggest best-seller. It replaced the game Lunar Lander as the number one arcade hit. Color arcade games became more popular in 1979 and 1980 (e.g. Pac-Man).

Other arcade classics of the late 1970s include Night Driver, Galaxian, and Breakout.

Gaming on home computers

While the fruit of development in early video games appeared mainly (for the consumer) in video arcades and home consoles, the rapidly evolving home computers of the 1970s and 80s allowed their owners to program simple games. Hobbyist groups for the new computers soon formed and game software followed.

Soon many of these games (at first clones of mainframe classics such as Star Trek, and then later clones of popular arcade games) were being distributed through a variety of channels, such as printing the game's source code in books (such as David Ahl's Basic Computer Games), magazines (Creative Computing), and newsletters, which allowed users to type in the code for themselves. Early game designers like Crowther, Daglow and Yob would find the computer code for their games -- which they had never thought to copyright -- published in books and magazines, with their names removed from the listing. Early home computers from Apple, Commodore, Tandy and others had many games that people typed in.

Another distribution channel was the physical mailing and selling of floppy disks, cassette tapes and ROM cartridges. Soon a small cottage industry was formed, with amateur programmers selling disks in plastic bags put on the shelves of local shops, or sent through the mail. Richard Garriott distributed several copies of his 1980 computer role-playing game Akalabeth in plastic bags before the game was published.

Early 8-bit home consoles (1977-1983)

Video games were found on cartridges in the second generation of home video games. Programs were no longer hardcoded into chips, but loaded into memory from storage and executed on general-purpose microprocessors. Rather than being confined to a small selection of games included in the box, consumers could now amass libraries of game cartridges. Early cartridges were 2k ROMs, although this amount slowly grew over time to 16 kB.

In the game consoles, high RAM prices at the time limited the memory capacity of the systems to a tiny amount, often less than a Kilobyte.

The Fairchild VES was the world's first cartridge-based video game console. It was released by Fairchild Semiconductor in August 1976. When Atari released their VCS the next year, Fairchild quickly re-named it to the Fairchild Channel F.

In 1977, Atari released its cartridge-based console called the Video Computer System (VCS), later called Atari 2600. Nine games were designed and released for the holiday season. It would quickly become by far the most popular of all the early consoles.

In 1978 Magnavox released its cartridge-based console, the Odyssey 2, in the United States and Canada. Philips Electronics released this same game console as the Philips G7000 in many European countries. Although it never became as popular as Atari, it managed to sell several million units through 1983.

In 1979, Activision was created by disgruntled former Atari programmers. It was the first third-party developer of video games.

More powerful consoles followed like the Intellivision and Colecovision. Intellivision, though chronologically part of the "8-bit era", had a unique processor with instructions that were 10 bits wide (allowing more instruction variety and potential speed), and registers 16 bits wide. For this reason it was something of a hybrid between the old 8-bit and new 16-bit worlds.

Unique among home systems of the time was the Vectrex, the only one to feature vector graphics.

The popularity of early consoles was strongly influenced by their ports of arcade games. The 2600 was the first with Space Invaders, and the Colecovision had Donkey Kong.

The 1980s

In the early 1980s, the computer gaming industry experienced its first major growing pains. Publishing houses appeared, with many honest businesses (and in rare cases such as Electronic Arts, successfully surviving to this day) alongside fly-by-night operations that cheated the games' developers. While some early 80s games were simple clones of existing arcade titles, the relatively low publishing costs for personal computer games allowed for many bold, unique games, a legacy that continues to this day. The primary gaming computer of the 1980s emerged in 1982: the Commodore 64. Possessing some of the best graphics and sound of its day, yet put out at a bargain price, it quickly gained a huge share of the market.

The Golden age of arcade games reached its full steam in the 1980s, with many technically innovative and genre-defining games in the first few years of the decade. Defender (1980) established the scrolling shooter and was the first to have events taking place outside the player's view, displayed by a radar view showing a map of the whole playfield. Battlezone (1980) used wireframe vector graphics to create the first true three-dimensional game world. Pole Position (1982) used sprite-based, pseudo-3D graphics when it pioneered the "rear-view racer format" where the player's view is behind and above the vehicle, looking forward along the road with the horizon in sight. The style would remain in wide use even after true 3D graphics became standard for racing games. Pac-Man (1980) was the first game to achieve widespread popularity in mainstream culture and the first game character to be popular in his own right. Dragon's Lair (1983) was the first laserdisc game, and introduced full-motion video to video games.

With Adventure establishing the genre, the release of Zork in 1980 further popularized text adventure games in home computers and established developer Infocom's dominance in the field. As these early computers often lacked graphical capabilities, text adventures proved successful. When affordable computers started catching up to and surpassing the graphics of consoles in the late 1980s, the games' popularity waned in favor of graphic adventures and other genres. The text adventure would eventually be known as interactive fiction and a small dedicated following has kept the genre going, with new releases being nearly all free.

Also published in 1980 was Roberta Williams' Mystery House, for the Apple II. It was the first graphic adventure on home computers. Graphics consisted entirely of static monochrome drawings, and the interface still used the typed commands of text adventures. It proved very popular at the time, and she and husband Ken went on to found Sierra On-Line, a major producer of adventure games. Mystery House remains largely forgotten today.

In September of 1982, the Commodore 64 was released to the public. It found initial success because it was marketed and priced aggressively. It had a BASIC programming environment and advanced graphic and sound capabilities for its time, similar to the Colecovision console. It would become the most popular home computer of its day and the best-selling single computer model of all time.

By the middle of 1983, the video game industry crashes.

SuperSet Software created Snipes, a text-mode networked computer game in 1983 to test a new PC based computer network and demonstrate its capabilities. Snipes is officially credited as being the original inspiration for Novell Netware. It was the first network application ever written and is recognised to be the precursor of multi-player games such as Doom and Quake. In 1983, Drew Major and Kyle Powell probably played the world's first deathmatch over-the-network with Snipes.

The true modern adventure game would be born with the Sierra King's Quest series in 1984. It featured color graphics and a third person perspective. An on-screen player-controlled character could be moved behind and in front of objects on a 2D background drawn in perspective, creating the illusion of pseudo-3D space. Commands were still entered via text. Lucasarts would do away with this last vestige feature of text adventures when its 1987 adventure Maniac Mansion built with its SCUMM system allowed a point-and-click interface. Sierra and other game companies quickly followed with their own mouse-driven games. For more on the history of adventures games, see Adventure games, history of

The personal computer became a competitive gaming platform with IBM's PC/AT in 1984. The new 16-color EGA display standard allowed its graphics to approach the quality seen in popular home computers like the Commodore 64. Sound however, was still only the crude bleeps of PC speakers. The primitive 4-color CGA graphics of previous models had limited the PC's appeal to the business segment, since its graphics failed to compete with the C64 or Apple II.

The Apple Macintosh also arrived at this time. It lacked the color capabilities of the earlier Apple II, but the operating system support for the GUI attracted developers of some interesting games (e.g. Lode Runner) even before color returned in 1987 with the Mac II.

In computer gaming, the later 1980s are primarily the story of the United Kingdom's rise to prominence. The market in the U.K. was primely positioned for this task: personal computer users were offered a smooth scale of power versus price, from the ZX Spectrum up to the Amiga, developers and publishers were in close enough proximity to offer each other support, and the NES made less of an impact than it did in the United States.

The arrival of the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga in 1985 was the beginning of a new era of 16-bit machines. For many users they were too expensive until later on in the decade, at which point advances in the IBM PC's open platform had caused the IBM PC compatibles to become comparably powerful at a lower cost than their competitors. The VGA standard developed for IBM's new PS/2 line in 1987 gave the PC the potential for 256-color graphics. This was a big jump ahead of most 8-bit home computers but still lagging behind platforms with built-in sound and graphics hardware like the Amiga, causing an odd trend around '89-91 towards developing to a seemingly inferior machine. Thus while both the ST and Amiga were host to many technically excellent games, their time of prominence proved to be shorter than that of the 8-bit machines, which saw new ports well into the 80s and even the 90s.

AdLib set an early defacto standard for sound cards in 1987, with its card based on the Yamaha YM3812 sound chip. This would last until the introduction of Creative Labs' Sound Blaster in 1989, which took the chip and added new features while remaining compatible with AdLib cards, and creating a new defacto standard. However, many games would still support these and rarer cards like the Roland MT-32 and Disney Sound Source into the early 90s. The initial high cost of sound cards meant they would not find widespread use until the 1990s.

Shareware gaming first appeared in the late 1980s, but its big successes came in the 1990s.

Bulletin Board Systems and early online gaming

Dialup bulletin board systems were popular in the 1980s, and sometimes used for online game playing. The earliest such systems, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, had a crude plain-text interface, but later systems made use of terminal-control codes (the so-called ANSI art, which included the use of IBM-PC-specific characters not actually part of an ANSI standard) to get a pseudo-graphical interface. Some BBSes offered access to various games which were playable through such an interface, ranging from text adventures to gambling games like blackjack (generally played for "points" rather than real money). On multiuser BBSs (where more than one person could be online at once), there were sometimes games allowing the different users to interact with one another; some such games of the fantasy role-playing variety were known as MUDs, for "multi-user dungeons".

Commercial online services also arose during this decade, starting with a plain-text interface similar to BBSs (but operated on large mainframe computers permitting larger numbers of users to be online at once), and moving by the end of the decade to fully-graphical environments using software specific to each personal computer platform. Popular text-based services included CompuServe, The Source, and GEnie, while platform-specific graphical services included Quantum Link for the Commodore 64, AppleLink for the Apple II and Macintosh, and PC Link for the IBM PC, all of which were run by the company which eventually became America Online; and a competing service, Prodigy. Interactive games were a feature of these services, though until 1987 they used text-based displays, not graphics.

Handheld LCD games

Nintendo's Game & Watch line began in 1980. The success of these LCD handhelds spurred dozens of other game and toy companies to make their own portable games, many being copies of Game & Watch titles or adaptations of popular arcade games. Improving LCD technology meant the new handhelds could be more reliable and consume less batteries than LED or VFD games, most only needing watch batteries. They could also be made much smaller than most LED handhelds, even small enough to wear on one's wrist like a watch.

8-bit era, or 'Post-crash/Late' 8-bit era (1985-1989)

Main article: 8-bit era

In 1984, the computer gaming market took over from the console market following the crash of that year; computers offered equal gaming ability and since their simple design allowed games to take complete command of the hardware after power-on, they were nearly as simple to start playing with as consoles.

In 1985, the North American video game console market was revived with Nintendo's release of its 8-bit console, the Famicom in the United States under the name Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was bundled with Super Mario Bros. and suddenly became a success. The NES dominated the North American market until the rise of the next generation of consoles in the early 1990s. Other markets were not as heavily dominated, allowing other consoles to find an audience like the PC Engine in Japan and the Sega Master System in Europe and Brazil. At this time, Squaresoft was struggling and Hironobu Sakaguchi decided to make their final game a fantasy role-playing game, and the Final Fantasy series was born. Final Fantasy saved Squaresoft from bankruptcy.

In the new consoles, the gamepad took over joysticks, paddles, and keypads as the default game controller included with the system. The gamepad design of an 8 direction D-pad with 2 or more action buttons became the standard.

In 1988 Nintendo published their first issue of Nintendo Power Magazine.

The 1990s

If the 1980s were about the rise of the industry, the 1990s were about its maturing into a Hollywood-esque landscape of ever-increasing budgets and increasingly consolidated publishers, with the losers slowly being crushed or absorbed. As this happens, the wide variety of games that existed in the 1980s appears to fade away, with the larger corporations desiring to maximize profitability and lower risk.

With the increasing computing power and decreasing cost of processors like Intel 386, 486, and Motorola 68000, the 1990s saw the rise of 3D graphics, as well as "multimedia" capabilities through sound cards and CD-ROMs.

In the early 1990s, shareware distribution was a popular method of publishing games for smaller developers, including then-fledgling companies such as Apogee (now 3D Realms), Epic Megagames (now Epic Games), and id Software. It gave consumers the chance to try a trial portion of the game, usually restricted to the game's complete first section or "episode", before purchasing the rest of the adventure. Racks of games on single 5 1/4" and later 3.5" floppy disks were common in many stores, often only costing a few dollars each. Since the shareware versions were essentially free, the cost only needed to cover the disk and minimal packaging. As the increasing size of games in the mid-90s made them impractical to fit on floppies, and retail publishers and developers began to earnestly mimic the practice, shareware games were replaced by shorter demos (often only one or two levels), distributed free on CDs with gaming magazines and over the Internet.

Shareware was also the distribution method of choice of early modern first-person shooters (FPS) like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Following Doom, the retail publishers and developers began to earnestly mimic the practice of offering demos, which had the effect of reducing shareware's appeal for the rest of the decade. During this time, the increasing computing power of personal computers began to allow rudimentary 3D graphics. 1993's Doom in particular was largely responsible for defining the genre and setting it apart from other first-person perspective games. The term FPS has generally come to refer to games where the player has full control over a (usually humanoid) character and can interact directly with the environment; almost always centering around the act of aiming and shooting with multiple styles of weapons and limited ammunition. See main article: First-person shooters, history of.

1992 saw the release of real-time strategy (RTS) game Dune 2. It was by no means the first in the genre (that being 1984's Ancient Art of War), but it set the standard game mechanics for later blockbuster RTS games like Warcraft and Command and Conquer. The RTS is characterised by an overhead view, a "mini-map", and the control of both the economic and military aspects of an army. The rivalry between the two styles of RTS play - WarCraft style, which used GUIs accessed once a building was selected, and C&C style, which allowed construction of any unit from within a permanently visible menu - continued into the start of the next millennium.

Alone in the Dark (1992) planted the seeds of what would become known as the survival horror genre. It established the formula that would later flourish on CD-ROM based consoles, with games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill.

Adventure games continued to evolve, with Sierra's King's Quest series, and LucasFilms'/LucasArts' Monkey Island series bringing graphical interaction and the creation of the concept of "point-and-click" gaming. Myst and its sequels inspired a new style of puzzle-based adventure games. Published in 1993, Myst itself was one of the first computer games to make full use of the new high-capacity CD-ROM storage format. It went on to remain the best-selling game of all time for much of the decade, and was one "killer apps" that made CD-ROM drives standard features on PCs. Despite Myst's mainstream success, the increased popularity of action-based and real-time games led adventure games and simulation games, both mainstays of computer games in earlier decades, to begin to fade into obscurity.

In 1996, 3dfx released the Voodoo chipset, leading to the first affordable 3D accelerator cards for personal computers. These devoted 3D rendering daughter cards performed most of computation required for rendering higher-resolution, more-detailed three-dimensional graphics, allowing for more-detailed graphics than would be possible if the CPU were required to handle both game logic and graphical tasks. First-person shooter games (notably Quake) were among the first to take advantage of this new technology. While other games would also make use of it, the FPS would become the chief driving force behind the development of new 3D hardware, as well as the yardstick by which its performance would be measured, usually quantified as the number of frames per second rendered for a particular scene in a particular game.

Several other, less-mainstream, genres were created in this decade. Looking Glass Studios' Thief and its sequel were the first to coin the term "first person sneaker", although it is questionable whether they are the first "first person stealth" games. Turn-based strategy progressed further, with the Heroes of Might and Magic (HOMM) series (from 3DO) luring many main-stream gamers into this complex genre.

The 90s also saw the beginnings of Internet gaming, with MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) in the early years. Id Software's 1996 game Quake pioneered play over the Internet in first-person shooters. Internet multiplayer capability became a defacto requirement in almost all FPS games. Other genres also began to offer online play, including RTS games like Microsoft's Age of Empires, Blizzard's WarCrafts II and III, and turn-based games such as Heroes of Might and Magic. MMORPGs (Massively Multiplay Online Roleplaying Games), such as Ultima Online and EverQuest freed users from the limited number of simultaneous players in other games and brought the MUD concept of persistent worlds to graphical multiplayer games. Developments in web browser plugins like Java and Macromedia Flash allowed for simple browser-based games. These are small single player or multiplayer games that can be quickly downloaded and played from within a web browser without installation. Their most popular use is for puzzle games, classic arcade games, and multiplayer card and board games.

Gamers in the 90s began to take their fates into their own hands, with the creation of modifications (or "mods") for popular games. It is generally accepted that the earliest mod was Castle Smurfenstein, for Castle Wolfenstein. Eventually, game designers realised that custom content increased the lifespan of their games, and so began to encourage the creation of mods. Half-Life spawned perhaps the most successful (or, at the very least, one of the most widely played) mods of all time, with a squad-based shooter entitled CounterStrike. Since CounterStrike, many games have encouraged the creation of custom content. Other examples include Unreal Tournament, which allowed players to import 3dsmax scenes to use as character models, and Maxis's The Sims, for which players could create custom objects.

Few new genres have been created since the advent of the FPS and RTS, with the possible exception of the third-person shooter. Games such as Grand Theft Auto III, Splinter Cell, Enter The Matrix and Hitman all use a third-person camera perspective but are otherwise very similar to their first-person counterparts.

Decline of arcades

With the 16-bit and 32-bit consoles, home video games began to approach the level of graphics seen in arcade games. By this time, video arcades had earned a reputation for being seedy, unsafe places. An increasing number of players would wait for popular arcade games to be ported to consoles rather than going out. Arcades had a last hurrah in the early 90s with Street Fighter II and the one-on-one fighting game genre it founded. As patronage of arcades declined, many were forced to close down. Classic coin-operated games have become largely the province of dedicated hobbyists. The gap left by the old corner arcades was partly filled by large amusement centres dedicated to providing clean, safe environments and expensive game control systems not available to home users. These are usually based on sports like skiing or cycling, as well as rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution, which have carved out a large slice of the pie.

Handhelds come of age

In 1989, Nintendo released the Game Boy, the first handheld console since the ill-fated Microvision ten years before. The design team headed by Gumpei Yokoi had also been responsible for the Game & Watch systems. Included with the system was Tetris, a popular puzzle game. Several rival handhelds also made their debut around that time, including the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx. Although most other systems were more technologically advanced, they were hampered by higher battery consumption and less third-party developer support. While some of the other systems remained in production until the mid-90s, the Game Boy remained at the top spot in sales throughout its lifespan.


  • Nintendo released the Super Game Boy, an adapter for the Super NES which allowed Game Boy games to be played in the console.

16-bit era (1989-1994)

Main article: History of video games (16-bit era)

The North American market was dominated by the Sega Genesis early on after its debut in 1989, with the Nintendo Super NES proving a strong, roughly equal rival in 1991. The NEC TurboGrafx 16 was the first 16-bit system to be marketed in the region, but did not achieve a large following, partly due to a limited library of English games and effective marketing from Sega.

The intense competition of this time was also a period of not entirely truthful marketing. The Turbographx 16 was billed as the first 16-bit system but the central processor was an 8-bit HuC6280, with only its HuC6260 graphics processor being a true 16-bit chip. Sega used the term Blast Processing to describe the simple fact that its CPU ran at a higher clock speed than the SNES(7.67 MHz vs 3.58 MHz).

In Japan, the PC Engine's(Turbografx 16) 1987 success against the Famicom and CD drive peripheral allowed it to fend off the Mega Drive(Genesis) in 1988, which never really caught on to the same degree as outside Japan. The PC Engine eventually lost out to the Super Famicom, but retained enough of a userbase to support new games well into the late 1990s.

CD-ROM drives were first seen in this generation, as add-ons for the PC Engine in 1988 and the Megadrive in 1991. Basic 3D graphics entered the mainstream with flat-shaded polygons enabled by additional processors in game cartridges like Virtua Racing and Starfox.

SNK's Neo-Geo was the most expensive console by a wide margin when it was released in 1990, and would remain so for years. It was also capable of 2D graphics in a quality level years ahead of other consoles. The reason for this was that it contained the same hardware that was found in SNK's arcade games. This was the first time since the home Pong machines that a true-to-the-arcade experience could be had at home.

32-bit / 64-bit era (1995 - 1999)

Main article: History of video games (32-bit era)
Super Mario 64 became a defining title for 3D platformers

In 1994-1995, Sega released Sega Saturn and Sony made its debut to the video gaming scene with the PlayStation. Both consoles using 32-bit technology, the door was open for 3D games.

After many delays, Nintendo released its 64-bit console, the Nintendo 64 in 1996, selling more than 1.5 million units in only three months. The flagship title, Super Mario 64, became a defining title for 3D platformer games.

Parappa the Rapper popularized rhythm, or music video games in Japan with its 1996 debut on the PlayStation. Subsequent music and dance games like Beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution became ubiquitous attractions in Japanese arcades. They became known as Bemani games, the name derived from Beatmania. While Parappa, DDR, and other games found a cult following when brought to North America, music games would not gain a wide audience in the market until the next decade.

Other milestone games of the era include Rare's Nintendo 64 title GoldenEye 007 (1997), which was critically acclaimed for actually being a good movie-licensed game as well as the first good FPS on a console, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), Nintendo's 3D debut for the Legend of Zelda adventure game series.

Nintendo's choice to use cartridges instead of CD-ROMs for the Nintendo 64, unique among the consoles of this period, proved to have negative consequences. In particular, SquareSoft, which had released all previous games in its Final Fantasy series for Nintendo consoles, now turned to the PlayStation; Final Fantasy VII (1997) was a huge success, establishing the popularity of role-playing games in the west and making the PlayStation the primary console for the genre.

By the end of this period, Sony had dethroned Nintendo, the PlayStation outselling the Nintendo 64. The Saturn was successful in Japan but a failure in North America, leaving Sega outside of the main competition.

The 2000s

Sixth generation era (1999 - 2004)

Main article: Sixth generation era



  • Sony released the PlayStation 2.
  • The Sims was released. It was an instant hit and became the best-selling computer game of all time, surpassing Myst.


  • Nintendo released the GameCube and the successor to the Game Boy Color, the Game Boy Advance.
  • Microsoft entered the videogame console industry by releasing its new home console, the Xbox. Its flagship game, Halo: Combat Evolved, is also available at the system's launch.
  • Sega announced they would discontinue the Dreamcast and no longer manufacture hardware.


  • Sega became a third-party developer for Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft.


Seventh-generation (2004 - present)

Main article: Seventh-generation era


  • Nintendo released a brand new type of portable handheld console, the Nintendo DS.
  • Sony announces the PSP. Japanese launch of the PSP in December 2004.



The current industry consensus is that the popularity of computer and video games, as a whole, has been increasing steadily ever since the 1984-1987 dropoff caused by the video game crash of 1983, and that the popularity is continuing to increase. The average age of the video game player is now 29 [1], indicating that video games are not largely a diversion for teenagers, as many nongamers assume. Each year, the theory goes, the generation of kids familiar with arcade and console games becomes one year older (and one year larger), and with more disposable income available to the group as a whole, sales should continue to grow, presumably until the entire population has grown up with video games easily available.


The three largest markets for computer and video games are the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Other significant markets include Germany, South Korea, France, and Italy. China is not considered a significant market, probably because an estimated 95% of video games sold in the country are pirated. [2]

Sales of different types of games vary widely between these markets due to local preferences. Japanese consumers avoid computer games and instead buy video games, with a strong preference for games created in Japan, that run on Japanese consoles. In South Korea, computer games are preferred, especially MMORPG games and real-time strategy games; there are over 20,000 PC bang internet cafes where computer games can be played for an hourly charge.

The NPD Group tracks computer and video game sales in the United States. It reported that as of 2004:

  • Console and portable software sales: $6.2 billion, up 8% from 2003 [3]
  • Console and portable hardware and accessory sales: $3.7 billion, down 35% from 2003 [4]
  • PC game sales: $1.1 billion, down 2% from 2003 [5]

These figures are sales in dollars, not units; unit shipments for each category were higher than the dollar sales numbers indicate, as more software and hardware was sold at reduced prices compared to 2003.

Retail PC game sales have been declining slightly each year since about 1998, but this fact should be taken with a grain of salt: the retail sales numbers from NPD do not include sales from online downloads, nor subscription revenue for games like MMORPGs.

There is a commonly repeated, mistaken belief that video game sales now exceed the revenues of the movie industry. This is untrue; in the United States, video game sales have exceeded the movies' total box office revenue each year since about 1996, but the movie studios trounce the video game publishers when the movies' "ancillary revenue" is counted, meaning sales of DVDs, sales to foreign distributors, and sales to cable TV, satellite TV, and broadcast television networks.

The game and film industries are also becoming increasingly intertwined, with companies like Sony having significant stakes in both. A large number of summer blockbuster films spawn a companion game, often launching at the same time in order to share the marketing costs.

Computer and video games in the broader culture

Computer games are still big business in South Korea. Developers there boast MMORPGs such as Lineage and Ragnarok Online with millions of subscribers and a third of the world's MMOG revenue. StarCraft gosu (expert players) are celebrities in a game that some have dared to call the country's national sport. The success of computer and online gaming there is usually credited to South Korea's push for broadband Internet connections in the home and earlier bans on Japanese products (these restrictions were removed by the late 1990s).

Several websites and publications devoted solely to games have been created, including Nintendo Power, GamePro, Official Playstation Magazine, GameSpot, GameSpy, and IGN.

Video gaming seems to be becoming a bigger part of popular culture. Many T-shirts are available that directly reference video games, such as one with a picture of an NES controller with the text 'Know Your Roots.' Also, video games have also become a major part in cross marketing platforms, such as in Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, where a child can watch the television show, buy the trading cards, and play the various video games available.

Video game properties have had mixed success when migrating to the movies. One of the first films based on a video game property was The Wizard, which some criticized as a 90-minute ad for Super Mario Brothers 3. In the mid-90s, films for Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, Wing Commander and Mortal Kombat were released. Reviews have generally been poor.

Despite the ultimately poor performance of these movies, many studios still want to turn big games into movies, hoping that the popularity of the game will help the movie. However, after the initial bunch, many projects materialized that were never finished, but the success of films like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has led to more films materializing. Doom, a game which film makers were trying to cross over since the mid 90s is finally going into production. John Woo is also producing a movie on the popular Nintendo game, Metroid.

However, there is still debate in the movie industry on whether video games can be turned into good, profitable movies. Films like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which has received mixed responses from audiences, with some saying it is a great movie, and others saying it is a very bad movie with excellent computer-generated imagery, but ultimately flopped in the box office, and Uwe Boll's House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark, which both ended up being horrible flops both in fan reactions and box office success and both ending up on the IMDB's bottom 100 movies, do not, in turn, give much confidence in whether these movies will be handled seriously.

On the other hand, video games get much more success when adapted into cartoons/animes. Some notables examples of major success includes the various Mario Bros. cartoons, Sonic SatAM, Captain N: The Game Master and Earthworm Jim while Sonic Underground, the American Mega Man cartoon and 4Kids' dubs (although this isn't limited to their video game-based dubs) are cited as being poor. Sometime, they even "help" more obscure/Japan-only games pick up popularity in America although rarely; To Heart would be the best example of such thing.

Movies have had far more success moving the other direction, onto video games. Most summer blockbuster films now have a simultaneous video game release; some of the most lucrative video games of recent times are based on movies, such as Electronic Arts' Lord of the Rings series of games, and Activision's two Spider-Man movie games.

Even though movies have had more success in game convertion, not all movie games are good. Some developers believe that the success of the movie will help the game sell, so may not try hard to make a compelling game. Some examples of this are the Catwoman and King Arthur movie games.

Also, video games have found themselves on MTV2, in a popular show called Video Mod, where characters from popular video games perform songs from hit artists, such as characters from The Sims 2 performing the song "Stacy's Mom" by Fountains Of Wayne.

On the Internet, gaming has also become a popular subject of many webcomics. Currently there are two varieties. The first one is the sprite comic, such as 8 Bit Theatre, in which the artist uses sprites from a video game to tell stories. Sometimes these are original stories, but are often parodies of the game in which the sprite came from. The other is a more traditional comic strip, containing original art, like Penny Arcade. Here, the storylines or jokes revolve around current events in video gaming. The success of Penny Arcade has attracted many people in the industry, including Ubi Soft. Other parodies have come in the form of amateur videos, such as those of Mega 64.

In Germany, the TV channel NBC Europe broadcasts a show called GIGA, which turned more and more into a video and computer game show. In the show, new games are presented and reviewed. Lately, the show featured the esports scene a lot, by introducing professional players to the audience and broadcasting live competition matches.


Main article: Game development

Video games are made by developers, who can be individuals, but are almost always a team consisting of designers, graphic designers and other artists, programmers, sound designers, musicians, and other technicians. Most video game console development teams number anywhere from 20 to 50 people, with some teams exceeding 100. The average team size as well as the average development time of a game have grown along with the size of the industry and the technology involved in creating games. This has led to regular occurrences of missed deadlines and unfinished products, such as Duke Nukem Forever. See also: video game industry practices.

Game modifications

Main article: Mod (computer gaming)

Games running on a PC are often designed with end-user modifications in mind, and this consequently allows modern computer games to be modified by gamers without much difficulty. These mods can add an extra dimension of replayability and interest. The Internet provided an inexpensive medium to promote and distribute mods, and they became an increasingly important factor in the commercial success of some games. Developers such as id, Valve, and Epic provide extensive tools and documentation to assist mod makers, leveraging the potential success brought in by a popular mod like Counter-Strike.

Recently, computer games have also been used as a digital-art medium. See artistic computer game modification.


Gamers use several umbrella terms for console, PC, arcade, handheld, and similar games since they do not agree on the best name. For many, either "computer game" or "video game" describes these games as a whole. Other commonly used terms include "entertainment software", "electronic game", "software game", and "videogame" (as one word).

Computer and video games may be considered a subset of interactive media, which includes virtual reality, flight and engineering simulation, multimedia and the World Wide Web.




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