Reflecting on the ‘father’ of video games

Published 5:04 pm Saturday, December 13, 2014

Here’s a little history lesson.

There was a man who fled from Germany with his family in 1938, just before World War II, and ended up in the United States. He worked a factory job until he saw an ad for the electronics career, which led him to graduate from the National Radio Institute as a radio service technician in 1940.

He served in the war as part of the U.S.’s military intelligence stationed in London. After that, he used the G.I. Bill to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in television engineering. He worked for various eletronics firms and even helped design electronic systems for the military.

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That work led him to design a television entertainment console in the 1960s.

This man was Ralph Baer. He died at 92 years old on Dec. 6. He was, essentially, the father of video games.

Without him, millions of people across the world wouldn’t play video games. Without him, two-thirds of American households wouldn’t have gaming consoles. Without him, I wouldn’t be writing this column.

It’s hard to overstate how important Baer is to the multi-billion dollar gaming industry. Baer developed what would become the Magnavox Odyssey, the first gaming console, in the 1960s. When the Odyssey was released in 1972, it came with a series of games on game cards that you could swap in and out to play. Atari took one of Baer’s games, “Table Tennis,” and created the now-beloved “Pong” by elevating the game with sound, among other things.

Baer’s inventions have spawned dozens of consoles and thousands of games since then. He had a storied career as an inventor, where he received accolades aplenty. He even invented the fun childhood game “Simon,” where you push the colored panels according to Simon’s command.

He’s an important figure in video game history and it’s inspiring to know he was still inventing right up until his death.

Baer has left behind a legacy many will continue to enjoy for the foreseeable future. He didn’t just invent a fun little pastime. He helped create a wondrous new artistic medium and the next step in the evolution of storytelling. We’re all the better for it.