Tennis for Two is the world’s first video game, “released” in 1958. There’s a shrine dedicated to it in Ready Player One.
The museum’s bottom level, located in the planet core, was a spherical room containing a shrine to the very first videogame, Tennis for Two, invented by William Higinbotham in 1958. The game ran on an ancient analogy computer and was played on a tiny oscilloscope screen about five inches in diamter.
Next to it was a replica of an ancient PDP-1 computer running a copy of Spacewar!, the second videogame ever made, created by a bunch of students at MIT in 1962.
Tennis for Two is not Pong, though at first glance game play appears very similar. It’s similar, in that players volley a glowing pixel back and forth, but Tennis for Two is actually harder than Pong because it incorporates a gravity effect.
This is possible because you’re viewing the game from a sidelong, horizontal perspective, rather than Pong’s more top-down perspective (or at least, that’s how I visualize it).
There’s a great simulator for the game that faithfully recreates the game and its idiosyncratic controls – you use a dial to control the angle at which the ball is returned, then switch back to using the keyboard to serve/hit the ball to your opponent.
Tennis for Two is a great little piece of video game history, and the simulator is worth checking out simply to see how far we’ve come. Gathering around your laptop to play the simulated game is a little awkward, but it works well enough for its educational purposes. If nothing else, it taught me just how different this game is from Pong.
The Ready Player One Replay is an ongoing exploration of the games that inspired the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Love it or hate it, there’s value in revisiting our geeky roots.
- My High Score: N/A.