Gaming and Technology: The Contributions of Video Games

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Video games and technology have always been inextricably linked. As evidence, here are five ways video games have aided the technology industry.

People frequently say that a certain video game quote was said by Nintendo’s Kristian Wilson, but it was actually a joke by comedian Marcus Brigstocke. This phrase is widely used on the Internet, and we’ve all probably seen it and agreed with it at some point.

The phrase was intended as a joke, but it demonstrates that video games do not have to be synonymous with something that harms children’s education or development or wastes our time. Video games are now being used in schools as a new way to teach children. They are also used in rehabilitation therapy, and they have been incorporated into other processes as a result of gamification and serious games.

Video games have had an impact on a wide range of industries, not just the entertainment industry. In fact, the technology industry has grown as a result of the assistance provided by video games. You might believe that the relationship is reversed, that technology comes first, followed by video games. However, in this one-of-a-kind relationship, we have seen devices and technologies that are now used by everyone that were first used in video games and other forms of electronic entertainment.

To give you an idea of what video games have done for technology, consider the following five contributions:

The first interfaces are ESDAC and the three-in-a-row game

When the first computers were built in the late 1940s and early 1950s, video games played an important role in making it easier to read the results of a program or test the first artificial intelligence algorithms.

Prior to the Xerox Alto, these early computers lacked a graphical user interface, so results had to be printed on long strips of paper or displayed with glowing images. Alexander “Sandy” Shafto Douglas, a PhD student at Cambridge, began working on his doctoral thesis in the Mathematics Laboratory in 1952. He wanted to learn more about how humans and machines interact.

The ESDAC (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator) was created in this lab. This was a special testing facility, and Alexander Douglas imagined creating a game in which a person and a computer would compete to learn more about how humans and machines interact. Douglas also believed that the computer’s input and output should be improved in order to make the game “simpler.” He did this by using a telephone dial as an input device and an oscilloscope screen to display the output.

This game, called OXO, was one of the very first video games ever created. It was an ESDAC experiment in which a computer with vacuum valves competed against a human in the game “three in a row” using one of the first artificial intelligence algorithms to be programmed into a computer.

Supercomputing, chess, and artificial intelligence

Chess was always associated with algorithms even before computers were invented. Between 1910 and 1912, Leonardo Torres Quevedo created El Ajedrecista, an electromechanical machine that could play chess against a human.

In the 1950s, Claude Shannon published one of the first books on programming a computer to play chess. Alan Turing wrote chess algorithms in 1950, hoping to use them in the Manchester Mark I computer. He couldn’t test them, though, and had to wait until Garry Kasparov played them at Alan Turing’s 100th birthday party in 2012 to see how they worked.

People will always remember the chess games between Garry Kasparov and the supercomputer Deep Blue (and its successor Deeper Blue). Deep Blue was a supercomputer built by IBM in 1996 to demonstrate its technical capabilities to the world. It was made up of 30 RS/6000 nodes, each with 30 120 MHz P2SC processors and 480 VLSI processors for chess moves. The system was capable of remembering 4,000 moves as well as the games of 700,000 chess grandmasters. It was ranked 259th among the most powerful computers at the time.

The first tournament between Kasparov and Deep Blue was held in February 1996. Kasparov outperformed Deep Blue, which could perform 200 million position calculations per second. The chess grandmaster won three of the six games, two were tied, and the supercomputer only won one.

Since Deep Blue, an increasing number of systems have been developed to test artificial intelligence algorithms in chess to see if they can defeat grandmasters. Deep Fritz is still a reference in this field, and robots that can play quick games against chess grandmasters can be found today. This demonstrates how games can influence the field of artificial intelligence.

Spacewar! and the spirit of MIT’s hackers

The first commercial computers were sold in the 1960s. They quickly became the most valuable pieces of equipment at institutions such as MIT. MIT received a PDP-1 computer in 1960. Many students who were interested in technology used it to work on their own projects, contributing to MIT’s so-called “hacker spirit.”

Steve “Slug” Russell, Martin “Shag” Graetz, and Wayne Wiitanen, who were not MIT students at the time, learned about the PDP-1 computer and how it had been used to perform trigonometric calculations in 1961. Based on this code, the three of them decided to spend 200 hours creating a game with two spaceships affected by the gravity of a nearby star and required to fire and turn with the force of their engines.

This is how Spacewar! was born. It was completed in 1962 and served as the foundation for many other fans and the first hackers at MIT to work on and improve. The code was available to anyone who wanted it, and it would eventually spread beyond MIT. Changes and improvements to the game would be made by other research centers as well.

Because of how much this game influenced hacker culture and the industry at the time, Digital Equipment, the company that manufactured the PDP-1, included Spacewar! as a standard feature on all new PDP-1 computers and later models such as the PDP-10 and PDP-11.

Controlling gestures

Leap Motion is a new generation of devices that allow us to control our computers without using a mouse. To do this, we simply make gestures in the air.

There are an increasing number of research projects and commercial products attempting to bring us closer to gesture control and make it easier to use everyday systems. This technology has also been greatly influenced by video games. We don’t have to look far because devices such as the Wiimote and Kinect are excellent examples (the name of the control controller of the Nintendo Wii console).

Both the Wiimote and the Kinect have altered the way we play video games, but the Kinect may have had the greatest impact because it has expanded beyond video games and is now used in many research projects and commercial systems for gesture control and artificial vision.

3D Graphics

The first three-dimensional graphics appeared in the 1960s and were used in simulations. However, video games have had a significant influence on this technology.

Maze War was one of the first three-dimensional video games. It was also the very first first-person shooter. Steve Colley created this game in 1973 for the Imlac PDS-1 computer. It grew in popularity because its code was open source and could be run on the Xerox Alto (and the Xerox Star) and the first Macs. This first 3D game is particularly intriguing because its creator, Steve Colley, later collaborated with NASA on the Mars Exploration Rover and its 3D representation system.

Tailgunner (1979), Battlezone (1980), Indianapolis 500 (1989), Hard Drivin’ (1989), and Alpha Waves (1989) were other games that used 3D graphics for the first time (1990). However, I, Atari Robot (1983), the first game to use three-dimensional polygon graphics, was probably one of the most influential.

Not only have video games made 3D graphics and virtual reality more accessible to the general public, but they have also fueled the development of ever more powerful hardware. Games like Nintendo’s Star Fox had a coprocessor called the “mythical Super FX chip” that gave the console more graphic power during the golden age of cartridge consoles. Gamers saved for a long time at the end of the 1990s to buy a graphics card for their PC made by the now-defunct 3dfx company so they could get the most out of the graphics in games at the time.

Our mobile devices’ graphics capabilities are improving all the time. Tablets, for example, have graphics chips that allow us to play games with 3D graphics and a high level of detail. When a new processor or graphics chip is released in the desktop market, games that are optimized for it are also released. This is yet another example of how video game companies and hardware companies are on the same page.

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