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Great Inventions of the 20th Century

1966 - Video Game Console

Video Game ConsoleAlthough anyone who had kids (or was a kid) in the late 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s is probably familiar with video games, there aren't too many people who know that the history of video games actually started almost five decades ago. In fact, the man who developed the first working console video game, Ralph Baer, first conceived the idea while working for Loral Electronics all the way back in 1951. Although his employer rejected the design, Baer didn't give up on it and in 1966 created the first video game that could be displayed on a standard television set.

PongThe 1970s saw the development of the coin-operated arcade video game. The first one to have widespread success was Pong in 1972 (shown at left), a game loosely based on table tennis. This was made by Atari, a company that would dominate video game sales throughout the '70s and '80s.

Even though Ralph Baer had created a video game that could be hooked up to a television set back in 1966, the first video game console for consumers wasn't put on the market until 1972. Called the Magnavox Odyssey, it used mainly analog electronics and wasn't very popular. The first really successful home game was Atari's home version of Pong, released in 1975.

In 1978 the release of Space Invaders ushered in what is known as "the Golden Age of Arcade Games". It was a huge hit and was the inspiration for dozens of manufacturers to start producing games. Although the arcade industry would decline in the late 1980s, during this time period the graphics and game play on an arcade game were superior to anything you could get on a home system and video arcades were extremely popular, despite concerns from some parents that a lot of the games were too violent.

The video game industry continued to grow until 1983, when the combination of a weak economy and poor quality games caused a crash and bankruptcy of many companies. Many gamers then turned to home computers, which were less expensive than ever before and had more capability for graphics and sound than video game consoles. The console industry was revived, however, in 1987 by the Nintendo Entertainment System. This became the dominant system in the North American market for many years to come.

GameboyThe first successful handheld console was the Nintendo Game Boy, released in 1989. Included with the system was Tetris, a hugely popular puzzle game. Although rival companies put out their own handheld systems, the Game Boy remained the most popular throughout its lifespan.

Grand Theft AutoGames continued to become more and more elaborate. In the mid 1990s, fully 3D games started to appear on the market. Levels of realism never before seen prompted renewed concerns about violence and other inappropriate content, leading to the establishment of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) in 1994. The ESRB now has a rating from E (Everyone) to AO (Adults Only) for virtually all video and computer games sold at retail, and the rating is prominently displayed on the game's packaging. However, as the average age of today's gamer is (believe it or not) 29, many game manufacturers are targeting their games to that age bracket. Games such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (right) have drawn heavy protest from parents and other groups, but despite this Grand Theft Auto games continuously rank in the top 10 most popular video games in the US.

Recently, with the phenomenal success of online computer games such as Diablo and World of Warcraft, console makers have seen the need to bring their technology up to date. The most popular systems today include Sony's Playstation 2 and Nintendo's GameCube. Microsoft entered the console market in 2001 with the X-Box, and launched X-Box Live, an online service, in 2002.

Controversy or no, it looks like video games are here to stay; total console, portable, and computer game sales totaled 11.2 billion dollars in 2003.

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This Week's Wacky Patent

Tricycle Mower

Tired of lazy, unappreciative children? Tired of being the only one to do the yard work? Solve all of your problems at once with the amazing tricycle lawnmower!

Designed to let them "at the same time obtain exercise while grooming the yard", this invention is certain to delight the small fry in your family. "You mean I can mow the lawn again, Dad?" is sure to become a common exclamation in your house. And if pesky thoughts of "child safety" keep popping into your head, just sit back, close your eyes, and imagine how jealous the neighbors will be of your beautiful lawn.

 

Lean Manufacturing

 

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