This application can be used in a variety of contexts and learning areas -- kids can learn about Presidential history, about the history of technology; they can work with math by focusing on the Tetris/Pentominoes pages; they can learn how to construct their own timeline; the application can be used as a spur to the imagination to write a storyline for a game or to create a whole genre of activity out of thin air, just like these video programmers did. It might be fun to ask kids what new technology for games they would make up now that isn’t technically possible yet, to give them the idea of what it was like for these pioneers of video gaming.
The Flash 8 player is required to play the activity. Most of the games require Flash, and one or two require JAVA. The links go, as much as possible, to full-page pages that don’t have bunches of links to other games.
Navigation: To get to a page of info about the game, click on the picture on the Main Menu. To get back to the main menu from each page, click on the picture in the top right corner that says Main Menu—
Each page has some brief information about the game, a link to a playable game, a link to the Kid’s page of the President in office in the top left corner, and a link to the game’s Wikipedia entry in the bottom left corner. You can use the info at the Wikipedia entry to develop questions for a quiz, or to slant the activity in a particular direction to suit your curriculum and student level.
From the main menu, there’s an interactive quiz that covers most of the games – it’s an extremely easy quiz.
It’s important to play the games in order chronologically (left to their own devices, 99% of kids will go directly to PacMan) – to get a good sense of history from the activity – to see how the complexity of the games advanced, how programmers built upon the ideas of other programmers.
1952 - OXO
Note that the big picture of the EDSAC computer is a mini-movie that demonstrates what it looks like when someone dialed in the numbers for the game.
If you’d like to actually play with the EDSAC emulator, you can, if you download the software from this site:
With the emulator, kids can get a very nifty feel about what it was like to “dial in” entries and play the tic-tac-toe game.
1958 – Tennis For Two
Note that it takes a few seconds for the little video to start playing, so be sure students stick around and watch the show. There’s not a game on this page – the activity is in watching how the game was played.
Stress how massive computers were in those days. The arrow in the big picture points to the tiny screen that’s shown in the video.
1961 – SpaceWar!
You’ll need JAVA to play the game – it may be kinda hard to see, but the picture in the bottom right hand corner is a clickable link to MIT’s JAVA Spacewar.
After playing the game, it’s pretty easy to see why it wasn’t a huge popular hit – it was a game by geeks for geeks.
1968 – Magnavox Odyssey
The game representing the Odyssey is a Simon game – headphones are helpful but not absolutely necessary.
I haven’t tested it yet myself, but here’s a link to an Odyssey emulator – let me know if you test it and it’s cool:
1972 – Pong
At this point in the activity, you’ll have kids saying how the game is too simple and boring, but it’s important to stress how these games were created out of thin air, basically, that at this point in history, if you played a game, it was checkers, chess, or Monopoly.
It might be fun to ask kids what new technology for games they would make up now that isn’t technically possible yet, to give them the idea of what it was like for these pioneers of video gaming.
This would be a good time to make sure that students understand the concept that games are written in computer code. Here’s an excellent page of the code written for a simple Pong game:
Also note that programmers continue to create new variations on the game, which actually is pretty fun.
1976 – Breakout
It’s fun to point out Steve Job’s involvement in the creation of this game – he either created it or took credit for the creation of it, depending upon who you believe, but it’s interesting to think that this was the breakthrough that eventually made iPods possible.
1978 – Space Invaders
Note how the programmers invented the concept of shooting at stuff that’s coming at you and that this game now uses three controls – back and forth and shooting.
1978 – Asteroids
Heavily influenced by Spacewar.
1980 – PacMan
One could spend an entire day on the research possibilities of this game, which was monumentally popular. The Wikipedia entry is extremely lengthy and has a substantial number of links to more information.
It’s important to point out that this was the first major non-shooter game, and its success made possible the success of many other comedic, non-violent games.
If you have an enormous amount of energy, you can download Gamemaker game creation software for free – it comes with an editable version of PacMan.
1980 – Centipede
Primary claim to fame – first game designed by a woman, but it was also one of the first games to incorporate Artificial Intelligence.
1981 – Donkey Kong
It was technically not the first platform game, but a very early one and certainly the most successful early one. Programmers continued to expand the notion of what you could do with a video game – beyond bouncing, beyond shooting, beyond a maze, to a traveling character.
1981 – Joust
Joust wasn’t really that important a game, but it was my husband’s favorite, and it’s included at his request.
1985 - Tetris
You can also visit the Pentominoes link at Wikipedia (quickly by clicking on the little pentomino picture on the Tetris page) and learn more about the original that this game is based on – note again how game programmers kept widening out the notion of what you could do with a video game.
Another fun activity is to visit the PBS Timeline of Technology in the home – it’s a fun Shockwave interactive: