Over the last few decades, we’ve watched the world of video games transform from an eccentric recreational hobby enjoyed by a narrow swath of tech-heads into a sprawling billion-dollar global industry. No longer just a geeky past-time, gaming now encompasses an incredibly broad range of player types and gaming experiences, and it’s expanding all the time.
As the flavor of fresh gaming experiences continues to evolve each year, it’s easy to get absorbed in the latest hype over the next big thing coming down the pipeline. In honor of National Video Games Day, however, we’re looking back at some of the milestones that marked the path along gaming’s amazing journey of bits and bytes. Here are seven major moments in gaming that have helped shape the world of video games.
1. The first video game
Widely regarded as the first video game, Tennis for Two was a primitive ping-pong like predecessor to arcade hits like Pong and Breakout played on an analog computer using two metal controller switches and an oscilloscope. Nuclear physicist William Higinbotham created the game in 1958 for a Brookhaven Lab open house, and it was a surprise hit among the hundreds of visitors who lined up to play. Little did he know it would be a harbinger of great things to come.
2. The birth of Mario
Few video game characters are as iconic and instantly recognizable as Mario. The pixelated Italian plumber made his 1981 debut as the hero of arcade classic Donkey Kong, then enjoyed a few smaller cameos before getting his big break in Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. In the decades since, the image of Mario has become synonymous with Nintendo’s brand, as he’s spawned and appeared in many dozens of games across numerous consoles and devices.
3. Gaming goes portable with Game Boy
Bringing the magic of the arcade to living rooms, the Atari and Nintendo paved the way in the early days of home consoles. The arrival of the Nintendo Game Boy in 1989, however, let players take gaming experiences with them on-the-go, and it was a real game-changer for the industry.
4. The Electronic Entertainment Expo
Formed as a games-centric offshoot of the popular Consumer Electronics Show, E3’s grand debut in 1995 helped put the games industry at large on the map in a very visible way. This annual convention is known for its extravagance and over-the-top flair, and it often serves as ground zero for many of the year’s biggest game announcements and demos from major game publishers.
5. The advent of digital downloads
One of the bigger shifts in the gaming world of late comes from the rise of digital distribution, which is driven in large part by online services like Steam, Xbox Live, the Nintendo eShop, and PlayStation Network. Disc and cartridge-based games still exist, of course, but as players have grown more accustomed to digitally downloading games, it has unlocked the door for more experimental games, fresh opportunities for smaller indie developers, and more gaming experiences to try.
6. Mobile gaming evolves
In its earliest days, even the gaming industry didn’t quite know what to make of playing games on clunky smartphones. All of that changed, of course, when Apple’s sleek and powerful iPhone arrived on the scene, exploding into a massive new branch of portable gaming. Today, the mobile games industry is massive, thanks to the widespread proliferation of smartphones and tablets, and its popularity is set to eclipse even more traditional dedicated gaming devices.
7. Minecraft explodes
No one could have foreseen the runaway popularity a small, scrappy little indie game called Minecraft would gain. With its minimalistic mix of exploring, gathering, crafting, and building, Minecraft exploded into one of the biggest indie game success stories of all time. To date, it has sold over 106 million copies, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down.