Early History of Video Games, part 1



Video games (as we know them today) have a twisted, confusing family tree that makes it almost impossible to be an expert across the board. Apogee? Sierra? Atari? Some of these names may be familiar and others might only barely tickle the edges of memory.

220px-Musée_Mécanique_013We can, however, easily look back to the beginning of electronic gaming. Somewhere between 1905 and 1910, the term ‘penny arcade‘ (no, not the comic, but obviously where the site got its name) was coined (pun not intended) because the machines primarily used pennies. Early versions of these “arcades” include slot machines, peep shows (no, not pornographic, but a broader collection showing entertaining objects or pictures), fortune-telling content, and love testers. Yes, love tester machines are over 100 years old!

Pachinko is a great example of a penny arcade, especially as they still exist now. Pachinko was an arcade of machines resembling a pinball game, but without the flappers. The origin of pachinko was around 1920 in Japan, and was referred to as a series of ‘Corinth games,’ from the ‘Corinthian bagatelle.’ Long before the Pachinko, the game of Bagatelle originated with the French and was brought to the United States by the French soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

BagatelleAccording to Wikipedia, Bagatelle was first revealed during a party in honor of King Louis XVI and the queen in 1777, by the king’s brother, the Count of Artois at the Château de Bagatelle. It rapidly gained popularity throughout France, leading to it being brought (and subsequently gaining wide popularity) to America, and ultimately Japan.

273In fact, it was so popular, that an early political cartoon from 1864 depicts candidates Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan playing it, depicting the race as a game of bagatelle.

Ultimately, the bagatelle penny arcade table lead to the creation of pachinko, thus organizing and presenting the early adaptation of how we see game arcades today. Perhaps we’d never have gaming as we do today had the French not brought it to America?

Coming up later this week, Early History of Video Games, part 2: The Game Machine.

Leigh Green