Revolution through Evolution

The Father of Video Games : Ralph Baer

Scooby Doo. Rings a bell? George Clooney? You do remember him! And for the gamers- Simon?  You surely are a 90’s kid! We did appreciate intelligence wrapped in gimmick and style. Simon, ancestor of gaming consoles, as you can respectfully put it, was invented by Ralph Baer who was born in Germany on 8th march, 1922 to Lotte and Leo baer, who worked in a shoe factory. They left for America before the outbreak of World War 2, when young Rudolf Heinrich (his christened name) was only 16. What could be a better gift than having Jewish brains and American research and development backing you.

On reaching the land of opportunities, he joined National Radio Institute as a technician, only to be a proud owner of three radio service stations later on, where he built PA systems on his own. This was short lived as what he had tried to avoid, by running to America, called on him again. In 1943, he was sent for WW2 as a veteran, where owing to his brilliance, he was involved in military intelligence in the U.S. army as well. Bless the G.I. Bill that provided fee waiver to war veterans willing to pursue higher education; it had the world witness the first bachelor’s degree in television engineering being given to none other than Ralph Baer. It was a budding branch unique to that era.

A few electronic firms were lucky to receive his contributions after his specialization in TV engineering. His blooming love for electronics led to his job as the only chief engineer at Wappler Inc., where he designed epilators and surgical machinery. Changing his loyalty to Loral Inc., New York, he landed on the post of a senior engineer. Here his innovative mind churned a fresh thought of playing games on TV, although he couldn’t spark much interest and motivation.

This amazing idea was realized in 1966 when he joined Sanders Associates in New Hampshire while supervising 500 engineers aiming to build electronic systems that could be useful for the American militia. Out of this was born Magnovox Odyssey, the first digital video game console, initially named “Brown Box”. Simple yet ingenious device, it simply consisted of a printed circuit board and worked on diode- transistor logic. It was a box like structure which gave the impression of playing a board game on a screen.

Today, what is the addiction of the youth and amongst the most sold items of electronic giants like Sony and Microsoft, gaming consoles were once considered futile and therefore underestimated by most TV manufacturers. They, when released to public in 1972, received thumbs up from the public. Motivated Baer invented light gun himself and added it to the odyssey pack. Meanwhile Atari Inc. a major computer company, smelled competition from its rival Sanders. As the market stories go, with competiton working like Santa bringing new surprises for the customers, public greeted the new invention of Atari- first arcade machine, which are a popular hits even now- Pong. The glitch was that it was blueprinted from Baer’s Table Tennis idea. Atari was sued for patent issues, but Noel Bushnell, head of Atari kept the competition alive, not only for the benefit of the company but to entitle himself as the “father of the video games” as well. Modest as he was, Baer was willing to let go of the title, but his superb inventions like odyssey 100 and odyssey2 earned him the title “Father of video games”.

Arunima Agarwal

Having a passion for tech science and zeal to play with words, enthuse me to write about technological fables. A humble ambition to become a writer, I would like to get to you the stories of some amazing technocrats - who believe creativity and innovation are the best tools to sculpt a career for oneself.