A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Brookhaven arcade celebrates one of the world's first video games

10/27/08
Brookhaven physicist Peter Takacs, who helped recreate the original game, with Tennis For Two.

Brookhaven physicist Peter Takacs, who helped recreate the original game, with Tennis for Two.

On Friday, October 24, 2008, Brookhaven National Laboratory employees and visitors exercised their thumbs to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the world's first video games.

Fifty years ago, before either arcades or home video games such as Pong or Pac-Man, visitors waited in line at Brookhaven Lab to play "Tennis for Two," an electronic tennis game first introduced on October 18, 1958, at one of the Lab's annual visitors' days. This two-player, electronic tennis game had separate controllers connected to an analog computer and an oscilloscope screen. Players saw a side view of a tennis court and used the boxy, aluminum controllers to serve and volley the "ball," a bright dot that leaves trails as it bounces from one side of the net to the other.

The game's creator, William Higinbotham, was a nuclear physicist who had worked on the Manhattan Project and lobbied for nuclear nonproliferation as the first chair of the Federation of American Scientists. As head of the Brookhaven Lab's Instrumentation Division, Higinbotham wanted to "liven up the place" for the visitors and "convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society."

Brookhaven science writer Kendra Snyder and science-communication intern Satya Shanmugham test out Tennis for Two.

Brookhaven science writer Kendra Snyder and science-communication intern Satya Shanmugham test out Tennis for Two.

Although the original game was dismantled soon after its premiere, a group of scientists and engineers re-created it about 10 years ago for Brookhaven's 50th anniversary celebration.

On Friday, Tennis for Two--the guts of which are contained in a computer about the size of a microwave oven--was dusted off and set up in the lobby of the Lab's Research Support Building. Throughout the day, roaming gamers tested out the rudimentary game alongside more modern games from Atari, Nintendo, and Wii, temporarily turning the building into an arcade showcasing the evolution of one of America's favorite pastimes.

Read more about Tennis for Two.

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