5 Contributions of Video Games to Technology
Technology and video games have always gone together. As proof, we’ll look at five ways video games have helped the tech industry.
People often say that a certain quote about video games was said by Kristian Wilson of Nintendo, but it was actually a joke by the comedian Marcus Brigstocke. This phrase is very popular on the Internet, and we’ve all probably seen it and agreed with what it says at some point:
The phrase was meant as a joke, but it shows that video games don’t have to be used as a synonym for something that hurts children’s education or development or makes us waste time. Today, video games are used in schools as a new way to teach children. They are also used in rehabilitation therapy, and thanks to gamification and serious games, they have been added to other processes as well.
Video games have had an effect on a lot of different areas, and it’s not just the entertainment industry. In fact, the technology industry has grown thanks to the help video games have given it. You might think the relationship is the other way around, that technology comes first and then video games. However, in this unique relationship, we have seen devices and technologies that are used by everyone today that were first used in video games and other electronic entertainment.
To give you an idea of what video games have done for technology, let’s take a few minutes to look at five of their contributions:
The first interfaces: ESDAC and the game of three in a row
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the first computers were being built, video games played a big role in making it easier to read the results of a program or test the first artificial intelligence algorithms.
Before the Xerox Alto, these first computers didn’t have a graphical user interface, so the results had to be printed on long strips of paper or shown with glowing pictures. Alexander “Sandy” Shafto Douglas, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, started working on his doctoral thesis in 1952 in the Mathematics Laboratory. He wanted to learn more about how people and machines work together.
In this lab, the ESDAC (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator) was made. This was a special place for testing, and Alexander Douglas thought that he could create a game that a person and a computer would play against each other to learn more about how humans and machines interact. Douglas also thought that the computer’s input and output needed to be improved to make the game “simpler.” To do this, he used a telephone dial as an input device and the screen of an oscilloscope to show the output.
This game, which was called OXO, was one of the first video games ever made. It was an experiment for the ESDAC that let a computer with vacuum valves play the game “three in a row” against a human using one of the first artificial intelligence algorithms to be put into a computer.
Chess, supercomputing and artificial intelligence
Even before computers were invented, the game of chess was always linked to algorithms. Between 1910 and 1912, Leonardo Torres Quevedo made an electromechanical machine called El Ajedrecista that could play chess against a person.
In the 1950s, Claude Shannon wrote one of the first books about how to program a computer to play chess. Alan Turing also wrote algorithms to play chess in 1950, hoping to use them in the Manchester Mark I computer. However, he couldn’t test them and had to wait until Garry Kasparov played them at Alan Turing’s 100th birthday party in 2012 to see them in action.
Surely, the chess games between Garry Kasparov and the supercomputer Deep Blue are the ones that people remember the most (and its successor Deeper Blue). Deep Blue was a supercomputer that IBM built in 1996 to show the world what it could do technically. It was made up of 30 RS/6000 nodes, each with 30 120 MHz P2SC processors and 480 VLSI processors that were designed to evaluate chess moves. The system could remember 4,000 moves and the games of 700,000 chess grandmasters. At the time, it was ranked 259th among the most powerful computers.
In February 1996, the first tournament between Kasparov and Deep Blue was held. Even though Deep Blue could do 200 million position calculations per second, Kasparov beat it. Three of the six games were won by the chess grandmaster, two were tied, and the supercomputer only won one of the games.
Since Deep Blue, more and more systems have been made that test the artificial intelligence algorithms in chess to see if they can beat grandmasters. Deep Fritz is still a reference in this field, and today we can even find robots that can play quick games against chess grandmasters. This shows how games can have an effect on the field of artificial intelligence.
Spacewar! and the spirit of the hackers at MIT
In the 1960s, the first commercial computers started to be sold. They quickly became the most valuable pieces of equipment at places like MIT. In 1960, MIT got a PDP-1 computer. Many students who were also interested in technology used it to work on their own projects, which fed the so-called “hacker spirit” of MIT.
In 1961, Steve “Slug” Russell, Martin “Shag” Graetz, and Wayne Wiitanen, none of whom were MIT students, learned about the PDP-1 computer and how it had been used to do trigonometric calculations. Based on this code, the three of them decided to spend 200 hours making a game with two spaceships that were affected by the gravity of a nearby star and had to both fire and turn with the force of their engines.
This is how Spacewar! came to be. It was finished in 1962 and became the base for many other fans and the first hackers at MIT to work on and make it better. The code was available to anyone who wanted it, and in the end, it would go beyond MIT. Other research centers would also make changes and improvements to the game.
Because of how much this game changed hacker culture and the industry at the time, Digital Equipment, the company that made the PDP-1, made Spacewar! a standard part of all new PDP-1 computers and later models like the PDP-10 and PDP-11.
Leap Motion is part of a new generation of devices that let us control our computers without a mouse. We just make gestures in the air to do this.
There are more and more research projects and commercial products that try to get us closer to gesture control and make it easier for us to use everyday systems. Video games have also had a big impact on this technology. We don’t have to look very far because devices like the Wiimote and Kinect are great examples (the name of the control controller of the Nintendo Wii console).
Both the Wiimote and the Kinect have changed the way we play video games, but the Kinect may have had the biggest impact because it has gone beyond the world of video games and is now used in many research projects and commercial systems for gesture control and artificial vision.
The first 3D graphics came out in the 1960s and were used in simulations. However, video games have also had a big impact on this technology.
Maze War was one of the first 3D video games. It was also the first first-person shooter ever made. This game was made by Steve Colley in 1973 for the Imlac PDS-1 computer. It became very popular because its code was open source and could be used on the Xerox Alto (and the Xerox Star) or the first Macs. This first 3D game is especially interesting because its creator, Steve Colley, later worked with NASA to make the Mars Exploration Rover and its 3D representation system.
Other games that used 3D graphics for the first time were Tailgunner (1979), Battlezone (1980), Indianapolis 500 (1989), Hard Drivin’ (1989), and Alpha Waves (1990). However, I, Atari Robot (1983), which was the first game ever to use graphics with three-dimensional polygons, was probably one of the most important.
Video games have not only made 3D graphics and virtual reality more accessible to the general public, but they have also been a driving force behind the development of ever more powerful hardware. In the golden age of cartridge consoles, games like Nintendo’s Star Fox had a coprocessor called the “mythical Super FX chip” that gave the console more graphic power. At the end of the 1990s, gamers saved for a long time to buy a graphics card for their PC that was made by the now-defunct 3dfx company so they could get the most out of the graphics in games at the time.
The graphics capabilities of our mobile devices are getting better and better. For example, tablets have graphics chips that let us play games with 3D graphics and a lot of detail. In the desktop market, when a new processor or graphics chip comes out, games that are optimized for it come out at the same time. This is just one more way to show that video game companies and hardware companies are on the same path.
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