In a country torn by the morality of war and fear of terrorism within its borders, a population turned to an escape. An escape chosen by many was video games. “If video games can be compared to baseball, then Nolan Bushnell is the industry’s Abner Doubleday. The California entrepreneur created the world’s first coin-operated video game in the 1971 with the obscure Computer Space and quickly founded Atari, the company that said ‘play ball!’ with its release of the 1972 mega hit Pong” (Sellers 1). It was in 1975 Atari started a home gaming revolution that continues on today.
The popularity of arcade games rose in 1970s (Bilstein 1). In 1971 Nolan Bushnell created the first coin-operated video game system called Computer Space (Sellers 1). The game did not do well and Bushnell later realized why. Bushnell began to understand that people wanted a challenge in games but did not want to be weighted down by extensive instructions (Hart 1). With this knowledge and a passion for games, Bushnell quit his job at Ampex to form a video game company. On June 27, 1972 Atari was created (Sellers 1).
Al Alcorn was an engineer for Atari and for the first Pong arcade console. The first Pong system debuted at the Andy Capp’s bar in Sunnyvale, California (Sellers 1). The game was a big hit at Andy Capp’s and it was what jump started Atari’s reign on the video game industry (Hart 2).
Pong’s popularity with the public pushed Atari to create a home version of the game. The home version of Pong was released in 1975 (Bilstein 1), and in 1976 the Warner Communications Incorporation of New York purchased Atari for twenty-eight million dollars (Perry 7). Excited to fuel a new form of gaming entertainment, Atari decided to create a new home gaming console. The Atari Video Computer System (VCS—later to be renamed the 2600) was created using existing technology found in basic home Pong games. The planned release for the Atari VCS/2600 was for the summer of 1976. However, the release was delayed because of a lawsuit between Atari and Magnavox, in which the latter claimed that Atari was “stealing [their] intellectual property.” The lawsuit did not stop Atari and in October of 1977, the VCS was released via Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us, and Kay-bee Toys stores for one hundred ninety-nine dollars and ninety-five cents (“25 years” 1). The VCS ended up being one of the only systems to survive the Christmas season of 1977. The system’s popularity was because of its flexible design with the use of interchangeable cartridges and 1978 held “strong sales…and a fantastic holiday season” for Atari (Bilstein 1).
To further the popularity of the VCS/2600 Atari decided to develop popular arcade games into cartridges for the 2600. The hit arcade game, Space Invaders, was released in 1980 and sales of the 2600 system went up with its release. “The 1980 release of Space Invaders…on the VCS is what really changed things for Atari…it was the first licensed title to come straight from the arcade” (“25 years” 2). However, the rise of Atari was also met with rivalry. Coleco and their product, the ColecoVision, presented some of the most fierce competition for the 2600’s successor, the Atari 5200 (Bilstein 1).
In 1984 the Atari 2600’s price dropped to between forty and fifty dollars and the video game industry’s lifespan began to be questioned (Bilstein 1). There was a two-year delay for the releases of the Atari 7600 and the 2600jr. (“25 years” 3) and with the current lag in the industry, Japanese company Nintendo entered the race and revived the market with their Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) (Bilstein 1). With the rise of Nintendo in the market, 1989 marked the end of the 2600’s domination (Bilstein 1).
When Atari released the VCS/2600 it created a wave of reaction from children, parents and the industry. The thought of video games as a new source of entertainment had struck a chord with children. The option of playing games at home had kids wanting to play video games. At the time, parents thought games could be used for educational purposes and Nolan Bushnell agreed. Atari released a few elementary-age games such as Math Grand-Prix and various Sesame Street games (“25 years” 1). The games were not major sellers and soon disappeared from the market, not to be seen again until more recent years.
Atari claimed its ground in the American culture when video games began to gain as many profits, royalties, and interaction as movies (Wolf 3). Atari created the video game culture of today. “If there were one game system that should have been called ‘Genesis’ it definitely should have been the Atari 2600…the [Atari 2600] Video Computer System was truly the dawn of civilization for the home video game market” (“25 years” 1). What Atari established with the 2600 has become an influential part of today’s popular culture.
With the help of video games, personal computers were able to ease their way into American households. Video games helped create a positive, fun, and user-friendly idea about the computer. Games also made computers a recreational item as well as a utility for work (Wolf 3). The influence Atari had then was phenomenal for the gaming industry. Atari gained consumers’ hearts with Space Invaders for the 2600 and it boosted the image for video games (“25 years” 3). The market accepted the system and sales of games increased from $60 million to $120 million in 1977 (Perry 6). The flexible design kept the system going because it was more convenient for the consumer to purchase individual game cartridges instead of systems. Six years after the release of the 2600 it sold 12 million systems for about one hundred forty dollars each and it also ranked number one among successful microprocessor-based products ever built (Perry 1). Within two years of Warner’s purchase of the company, Atari was able to bring down “return on equity of [Warner’s] stock” and in 1983 Atari accounted for one-half of Warner’s total profits (Perry 7).
In Westport, Connecticut in 1983 opponents to the opening of a three million dollar game parlor “charged that he [the store owner] would mesmerize their youngsters, rob them of their lunch money, provide the with a center for illicit drug traffic and cause the downfall of youth baseball, [and] music lessons” (Gagne 4). Oppositions such as these started to give the video game industry a bad reputation. Arcades began to be viewed as “pool hall for kids” and parents became concerned about uncontrollable environments such as arcades and a child’s mind (Gagne 5).
The lasting influence of Atari can be seen in our current video game industry. Atari created the video game industry and dominated it (“25 years” 3). Video games were used to provide an interactive form of entertainment (Vitka 2). However, the games began to be considered a threat [or distraction] on time that can be spent doing better things such as studying, work, or playing outdoors (Gagne 4). In 1983 parents were concerned about the environments video games put their children and later on that concern shifted to the lessons taught and learned from games (Gagne 7).
The games were seen as a factor that “demonizes” the youth. Younger people disagree that video games are responsible for “demonizing” the growing culture but older people cling to the idea because they do not trust what they do not understand and many do not understand video games (Gagne 3). The games became an easy target to be used as a scapegoat for the developing problems of society.
People opposed of video games believed that the games would “teach anti-social lessons” to those who played (Gagne 2). Some observers think that ‘gamers’ prefer technology over human interaction (Gagne 5) and there is a growing belief that some gamers cannot distinguish between fiction and reality (Gagne 2). Do video games devalue life? Lieutenant Colonel Grossman claimed that video games develop an “Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome” (AVIDS) among its users (Gagne 8). The dehumanization of enemies in games was a key factor in Grossman’s claim but the allegation brought nothing for him (Gagne 3).
It is because of the growing concern about what games are teaching today’s youth that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) assigns ratings (like movie ratings) to marketed games. Atari could not have predicted what would happen decades after their creation of the video game industry. When Pong was released there was no need for such ratings as today because the games of the time were not seen as evil. Nowadays, the advancements in technology and the growing thirst in the consumers for a thought-provoking strategy game or bash-them-up fighting games have caused public concern about video games (Gagne 6).
Atari no longer makes a console for their games but it is still a powerhouse player in the video game market. Although Sega, Sony, and Nintendo now rule most of the interactive entertainment market, the Atari 2600 is one of the most loved and celebrated game systems of all time. Moreover, with the recent interest in retro-gaming the 2600—or at least its games—can look forward to a comeback with a loving audience (“25 years” 4).


Works Cited
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