Here in the United States we are obsessed with firsts. First train robber (1873 – Jesse James), first policewoman (1910 – Alice Wells), first man on the moon (1969 – Neil Armstrong) , first black president (2009 – Barack Obama). That’s all well and good and no doubt as it should be. After all there’s no record book for second place.
The first computer game ever is commonly attributed to OXO or Naughts and Crosses, a tic-tac-toe computer game written by Alexander Douglas in 1952 for a Ph.D thesis at the University of Cambridge. This is probably as deadly dull as it sounds but hey, it’s a first.
Much cooler is the second ever computer game, Tennis For Two, created by William Higinbotham of Brookhaven Lab’s Instrumentation Division on October 18, 1958 for the Lab’s annual Visitor’s Day. It’s a crude but effective tennis game played on two oscilloscopes with primitive switch boxes for controllers and was apparently the hit of Visitor’s Day, especially with the young kids in the crowd. In October of 2008 the Brookhaven staff rebuilt the game using Higinbotham’s original blueprints (the first console had long since been dismantled and the parts discarded), for the 50th anniversary of Tennis For Two. Footage of the gameplay has since been set to music and released into the wilds of YouTube. It’s a beautiful, almost hypnotic piece and gives us a glimpse of computer gaming in its embryonic form.
Close may only count in horseshoes and hand grenades but in this case second place clearly takes the prize.