A History of Video Games: From Game Play to Video Game Characters

A History of Video Games: From Game Play to Video Game Characters

Posted 07.13.2012 in Articles by Neil-Denny

For decades, video games have captured the hearts and imagination of millions of gamers worldwide. Whether it's the story line, the art, or the addictive gameplay, the video game has grown into a multibillion dollar industry. From the evolution of game play to the enduring appeal of Mario, here is a brief history of the video game and its recognition as an all-encompassing art form, a reminder why so many of us spend our time and money mashing buttons to save the princess.

In the beginning there was Pong.

Released in 1972 by Atari Incorporated based in Sunnyvale, CA, it is widely regarded the father of the video game industry. Though many games came before it as far back as 1947 with the introduction of the “cathode ray tube amusement device,” Pong was the first title to reach widespread commercial success. What made Pong so damn cool? You could attribute its appeal to the simple aesthetic, vertical rectangles and a floating dot serving as paddles and pong against a black backdrop. Its real beauty, however, comes from the addictive gameplay. Easy to control and quick to pick up, the game tapped into our competitive nature, and its simplicity made it fun for everyone. 

For better or for worse, the success of Pong led to a slew of copycats taking the same formula and flooding the market with practically the same video game. Though it led to the first “crash” of the industry, it also forced developers to think of new, more innovative ways to play, resulting in an era known as the Golden Age of the Video Arcade. The emergence of video game genres, at the peak of this era in the 1980’s, made it possible to cater to every type of gamer. Thrill-seekers enjoyed a variety of action games: from shooters like Space Invader and Defender to beat ‘em ups like Kung Fu Master and Renegade. Gamers looking for a challenge can try their hand at platform games like Donkey Kong and Space Panic or adventure games like King’s Quest and The Legend of Zelda.

This is all fun and dandy, but separating each game into different genres could turn some titles into one-trick ponies. For a game to endure the ages, it needed a face. No face illustrates that point more clearly than that of the mustachioed man we all know and love as Mario. 

Mario made his first debut as “Jumpman” from the Donkey Kong arcade game. Limitations on graphics at the time made him appear to be wearing overalls. This was in part the reason legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto ultimately chose Mario’s profession to be that of a plumber, more specifically an Italian plumber working in the sewers of New York City. By designing a video game character, one with distinct physical features and a unique personality, it created a sense of emotional appeal and breathed life into the video game. Essentially, Mario did for the gaming industry what Mickey Mouse did for cartoons. Over the years, his games have sold over four million copies worldwide, making him by far the best-selling video game franchise of all time.

With the example set by Mario and other great franchises like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid, video games have developed into something more than a fun way to pass the time. Rather than just one or two designers working on any given game, it requires a whole staff of programmers, artists, and game testers, working together to create titles that not only stimulate mentally and visually, but also leave a lasting impression in our hearts. A video game can immerse us into a world in a way no other medium can. As technology continues to evolve, games have continued to grow deeper and deeper, as seen in ambitious titles like BioShock and Uncharted, both of which are worthy of Academy Awards. With the innovation and the true artistry put into video games nowadays, there’s no telling where they’ll take us next.


Image (CC) Luis Eric 


Login or create an account to post a comment
Posts: 1
pacman the sailor man
Reply #1 on : Mon October 15, 2012, 09:45:52
great article... good comparison of mario to mickey but if that's the case, PACMAN is POPEYE, iconic and underrated. pacman was huge in bringing video games to wide popularity but doesnt always get the love. Pacquiao does the name justice.

Articles Categories