The Elders of Gaming Are Getting Older

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Several weeks ago, the world lost Ralph Baer, at the age of 92. He was the father of video games as we know them. Ralph was something of an anomaly. At the age of 29, Ralph first began to tinker with the idea that would become the video game while working for Loral Electronics Corporation in 1951. Unfortunately, Loral purportedly wanted nothing to do with this at the time.

When we think of inventors, artists, musicians, we don't tend to think of elderly people. This idea isn't mutually exclusive. Thomas Edison managed to revolutionize (and helped create) the motion picture in his 40s. Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile and the labor force while in his 50s. Those are just two blips. There are many more. However, the world has been, is, and will continue to be shaped by young people, and these handsome, young energetic people are the stories that people like to tell. Things like Steve Jobs and the Woz founding Apple Computers in a garage (which was recently revealed to be only a half-truth but nonetheless). We think of people who belong to the 27 Club. We think of dot com millionaires, people like Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey.

It isn't really fair to call Ralph Baer a late bloomer. Rather, he was a lifelong tinkerer who held onto the rough sketch of video games until he managed to develop "The Brown Box" in 1967, the device that would go onto become the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. Ralph Baer was 45 when he was developing the Brown Box. He was 50 when it came to fruition.

Video games do not have many Ralphs. He's special that way. His father of gaming status is indeed a cold, hard fact. But even at the birth of the Odyssey, he is still visually the father of gaming. He was an old man in 1972.

Three months after the release of the Magnavox Odyssey, Nolan Bushnell and his company Atari Inc. would release Pong into the world. Nolan Bushnell was 29, just like Ralph Baer was when he was thinking big at Loral so many years before. In so few words, Nolan Bushnell is often "the other guy" when people talk about the fathers of video gaming. He is the other one.

Nolan Bushnell will be 72 next month. The average age of the American male is about 76 years of age.


I'm not the boogeyman, nor the Grim Reaper. I'm not here to scare anybody. In fact, I'm not even here necessarily to talk about or to Nolan, or anybody else. Will Nolan Bushnell die at 76? I don't know. That's terrible to think about. He could have died 75 years ago. He could just as easily live to be 110. The point is, the video game is still incredibly new. It's a new concept, a new idea, and it has been continually pushed by new people--generally young people.

Home computing, software, and video games at large are unique in that most of its earliest pioneers are still living. The historical legends and giants of this industry are out and about. Shigeru Miyamoto is probably thinking about dinner. Bushnell will probably wake up in a few hours and eat breakfast. They're all still eating, breathing, walking among us.

Most of the pioneers and progenitors of rock and roll are dead. All of films earliest pioneers are dead, nearly all of its earliest stars are dead.

Video games are still new, and when Ralph Baer died, whom at 92 was sort of an outlier in the community, it was a massive and maybe even shocking loss to this industry. It was such a story because in a lot of ways he was the first to go.

Myriads of beloved artists across all mediums have lived their entire lives out only to receive critical acclaim and recognition posthumously. I would be hard pressed to call someone like Miyamoto or Kojima unrecognized, because that isn't the truth. But it's worth thinking about the people who make the games we love, who have shaped the medium we have all devoted large parts of our lives to, and thanking them. It's worth taking time out of our brand new year to think about the artists and geniuses who have shaped this incredible hobby we all love so much. We have the rare opportunity to say thank you. We should all probably take advantage of it.

(via my new, personal video games blog. Thank you.)

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