Sunday, November 14, 2010

Atari Gets History All Kinds of Wrong

The excellent Atarimania website has an equally awesome archive of the official Atari Game Club magazine, Atari Age, with PDF files of all the published issues available for nostalgic perusal.

Atari Age began publication shortly after Warner Communications bought Atari, and while it was great fun for Atari fans, it was also perfectly willing to function as a corporate propaganda organ.  Take, for instance, a question to editor George Dakota, from a reader who asks, "Who invented video games?"

Now, if you're reading this blog, you would likely choose Ralph Baer, whose visionary concept and pioneering team at Sanders Associates made the original Magnavox Odyssey possible.  Or, for a slightly more Atari-centric perspective, you might consider Pong, reputedly "borrowed" from Baer and engineered by Al Alcorn, or the pre-Atari Nolan Bushnell / Ted Dabney coin-op project Computer Space, though that was inspired by the 1961 Spacewar! minicomputer game created at MIT.

But in the pages of Atari Age, we are "informed" that, in fact, it all started with Atari's Pong.  Which Nolan Bushnell invented!  In his garage!  As the first commercial videogame!  Before Atari was even really a company!

Nolan Bushnell had been the public face of Atari for many years, and a little Disneyfication of the corporate founder is always par for the PR course.  But Bushnell and Warner never quite saw eye to eye, and Bushnell had been ousted by Atari's new corporate overlords several years before this answer saw print, a fact that also goes conveniently unmentioned here.

The only element of this folksy rendition of Yon Earlie Dayes o' Viddeo Gaymmes that bears the full ring of truth is Nolan's drafting of a "cocktail lounge" to host the game's debut, and even that's a bit of a euphemism -- it was a Sunnyvale bar.

No partial credit, then.

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