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All Your Game Are Belong To Us

2012 may be the 60th anniversary of the first videogame: a version of Noughts and Crosses for the Cambridge EDSAC. It certainly seems to be the earliest I’ve ever come across, and I say “seems to be” because there’s always the possibility it’s been mis-dated; I can’t confirm it. Here it is (without the subroutines that actually make it work; by modern standards it’s tiny, but still a bit long to include here):

[OXO]
T56K
[M3]
PFGKIFAFRDLFUFOFE@A6FG@E8FEZPF
@ !8!7!!!!!!!*NOUGHTS!AND!CROSSES
@!5!4!!!!!!!*!!!!!!!!BY
@!2!1!!!!!!!*A!S!DOUGLAS#N!*C#M1952
@&@&*LOADING!PLEASE!WAIT#MMM
..PK
T45KP192F [H-parm]
T50KP512F [X-parm]
T46KP352F [N-parm]

Somebody might well have had “Tic Tac Toe“ running on the ENIAC in 1948, but Cambridge were among the first to realise that the cathode ray tube memory monitors used at the time could double as displays of useful (or fun) output data: this really is video game… of sorts. It seems fair to give A.S. Douglas some credit, at any rate. You can get an EDSAC emulator, with the full program, here. Nobody in their 20s will find it odd to play a game that was written before they were born (although they might have trouble with the telephone-dial controller) but for those of us who remember the excitement of actually having Pong at home it’s a rather strange experience.

It took a long time before anyone attempted to get a videogame rated by the censors. My memory’s a bit hazy on it: as I recall, it was a text adventure version of Frank Herbert’s The Rats, but I’ve read otherwise. I do know it was 1985, at the height of the “video nasty” scare, and was universally seen by gamers as a marketing ploy: get a rather pedestrian title slapped with an 18 certificate, and it’s instantly transformed into catnip for underage boys. The early videogame entrepreneurs understood how people’s minds work.

How things have changed:

Those who stock games could be sent to prison for six months or fined £5,000 if they are caught selling 12-rated products to youngsters.

All games will now be rated by the Video Standards Council, which has the power to ban products from Britain if it considers them too explicit.

It has the power to say they’re banned. They never seem to learn, do they?

The Kulturminister, Ed Vaisey, called it a “simplification of the ratings system”. Yeah. The system remains exactly the same as it was yesterday (and it’s quite a good one; I’ve no objection to – voluntary – labelling that gives people an idea of what to expect); all that has changed is that it now has the threat of force behind it. The ratchet has clicked another notch.

Dr Jo Twist, chief executive of The Association of UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie), welcomed the new system.

Oh, what a shocker. They always do.

She added: ‘As we mark the start of PEGI as the single video game age rating system, we’re delighted to use the opportunity to help parents to make informed decisions about which video games to choose for their family.’

or else.

6 Comments

  1. NickM says:

    “for their family”…

    Says it all – utterly typical. My family (in-house) consists of a 38yr old man (me), a 33yr old woman (my wife) and a 7yr old who without the eviiil influence of gaming enjoys killing small birds and mammals. Being a cat and all. It is what they do. He also enjoys eating meat, defending his territory, urinating on hedges and brawling with his peers. He ought to be banned / think of the children!

    Fascinating post Sam though. It always puzzled me as to how long it took computers to go from teletype interfaces to on screen.

  2. Simon Jester says:

    “Nobody in their 20s will find it odd to play a game that was written before they were born”

    There are people who are now old enough to vote, who were born after Doom was written.

    God, I feel old.

  3. NickM says:

    When Doom was written I didn’t have a computer capable of running it…

    And if you doubt it I know four men of high standing in the county of Yorkshire who will vouch for me…

    My fave old game is defs “Warlords”. Absolute class.

  4. Sam Duncan says:

    I was amazed, when the Doom source was released and some bright spark rebuilt it, that my (admittedly slightly souped-up) Amiga could play Doom reasonably well on low detail, because some of the knockoffs that appeared in its absence were pretty damn ropey. (Although I still have a soft spot for Alien Breed 3D, and multiplayer Gloom was a hoot.)

    And now I have a cheapo MP3 player that can do the same: the Sansa Clip, once you install Rockbox. Of course, it has a tiny monochrome OLED display (literally monochrome; it doesn’t do shades of grey), so you can’t see what the fsck is going on, but it runs

  5. Tim Newman says:

    Not sure why it is Doom that everyone refers to when talking about 3D gaming…I thought Doom built an awful lot on what Wolfenstein 3D accomplished. Now there was a game which brought something new…

  6. NickM says:

    Wolfenstein was largely pseudo 3D. I did play it to completion and got RSI though.

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