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Inventors Of The Modern Computer
Spacewar: The First Computer Video Game
Steve Russell

compter inventions"If I hadn't done it, someone would've done something equally exciting if not better in the next six months. I just happened to get there first." - Steve Russell

illustration of a spacewar video game by mary bellisIt was in 1962 when a young computer programmer from MIT, Steve Russell (fueled with inspiration from the writings of E. E. "Doc" Smith*), created the first computer video game. Russell wrote his game on a PDP-1, an early DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) "interactive" mini computer which used a cathode-ray tube type display and keyboard input. The computer was a donation to MIT from DEC, who hoped MIT's think tank would be able to do something remarkable with their product. A game called "Spacewar" was the last thing DEC expected.

compter inventionsThe PDP-1's operating system was the first to allow multiple users to share the computer simultaneously. This was perfect for playing Spacewar, which was a two-player game involving warring spaceships firing photon torpedoes. [Try playing a replica** of the game for yourselves. It still holds today up as a great way to waste a few hours.] By the mid-sixties, when computer time was still very expensive, Spacewar could be found on nearly every research computer in the country.

compter inventionsFurther Reading
Computer Games
More on the origin of Spacewar - the joystick nation - DEC PDP-1 - Digital Equipment Corporation - the history of video games

*An interesting sidenote is that "Doc" Smith, besides being a great science fiction writer, held a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and was the researcher who figured out how to get powdered sugar to stick to doughnuts.

**Spacewar! was conceived in 1961 by Martin Graetz, Stephen Russell, and Wayne Wiitanen. It was first realized on the PDP-1 in 1962 by Stephen Russell, Peter Samson, Dan Edwards and Martin Graetz, together with Alan Kotok, Steve Piner and Robert A. Saunders. Spacewar! is in the public domain, but this credit paragraph must accompany all distributed versions of the program.

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