Once considered a niche pastime, video games and interactive entertainment have become increasingly mainstream. In fact, a recent report from the Entertainment Software Association found that more than 164 million people play video games in the United States alone.
Not only are more people playing video games than ever before, but thanks to services like Twitch, watching others play games has also become a popular form of entertainment. The demand for this type of content has led to developers creating games specifically designed as “E-sport” titles that are conducive to competition with tournament structures and cash prizes.
Central to the boom in video game popularity are inventions and advances in technology that have made this engaging activity possible. Below are three of our National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductees whose contributions are enjoyed by millions of gamers today.
Known as the father of video games, NIHF Inductee Ralph Baer invented the first commercial home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey. By connecting this “Brown Box” to a television, for the first time, individuals could play digital versions of golf, checkers, soccer and ping-pong. While its novelty and price tag of around $100 in 1972 (equivalent to $600 today) led to weak sales when the console was released, the Odyssey’s ping-pong game was the direct inspiration for a video game that would become a household name: Pong. Baer’s pioneering work on the Magnavox Odyssey created an entirely new industry, and for his contributions to technology and entertainment, in 2004 he was awarded the National Medal of Technology.
Before NIHF Inductee Douglas Engelbart invented the computer mouse, users had to navigate their screens using punch cards or a combination of complex keystrokes. However, in 1961, while attending a conference session on computer graphics, Engelbart realized that by using a pair of horizontal and vertical wheels, a computer could track the rotations and represent this as a cursor on the screen. Engelbart and his team began prototyping a device that could achieve this, and in 1967, filed a patent for the first computer mouse. It took another 16 years before the mouse would make its way to everyday consumers, when it was packaged with Apple’s Lisa computer in 1983. Not long after, the ease and simplicity of the device catapulted its popularity, and it soon became the standard way to interact with information on a computer screen.
Nick Holonyak Jr.
The work of NIHF Inductee Nick Holonyak Jr., inventor of the first visible light-emitting diodes (LEDs), can be found in everything from television and computer screens to light bulbs and traffic lights. His red LED proved foundational, and following the development of green and blue LED lights in the 1970s and 90s respectively, the creation of white light LEDs became possible and revolutionized the lighting industry. Holonyak’s contributions to laser technology were also used to develop the red lasers found in CD and DVD players. Holonyak is one of only a few Americans to have been awarded both the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology.
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