How I Met the Inventor of the Videogame

Ralph Baer, inventor of the videogame console, recently came to Berlin to celebrate the online launch of the "History of Video Games Timeline" by the Berlin Computer Game Museum. Quite an exciting moment for me, and probably the last chance to have a chat with the man behind the craze that touched our lives and changed the world.

After he gave a speech on his time at Sanders, where he started working on the Brown Box—the grandfather of all consoles—as early as 1966 and invented the light gun, I had the chance to have a brief chat with him.

He really is a likable chap. However, you can tell that he had to fight hard for recognition. If you asked a random person on the street who invented the videogame, the answer would very likely be: "Atari!"

As a matter of fact, though, Nolan Bushnell's inspiration for Pong came from a game included in the first video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, the 1972 commercial iteration of the Brown Box.

While Bushnell can be considered the inventor of the videogame industry, Baer was the inventor of its basis.

He has the documents to prove it, and he held the patents. Consequently, Magnavox not only succeeded in suing Atari for patent infringement but also Coleco, Mattel, Activision, and Nintendo.

Unfortunately he could not sue the public's imagination. As a result, he likes to remind everyone that it was in fact he who made the first step.

When I asked him to sign my copy of Steve Kent's Ultimate History of Videogames, he pointed out that he really liked the book because it presented his version of events. But even someone as invested in game history as Steve needed some persuasion to believe his story.

This is probably the reason why Baer never holds back when it comes to pointing out his numerous inventions and how much ahead of their time they were.

Asked if he considered the Wii the spiritual successor to the Brown Box and the Odyssey, given their family-friendly focus and use of peripherals, the first thing he told me was how he thought up a similar concept in the late 1980s.

But credit where credit is due: the patents he holds are indeed evidence of his visionary nature. He thought of delivering games via cable, entertained the idea of online games and invented other electronic games, such as Simon.

This was finally recognized by the American government in 2007, when was awarded the National Medal of Technology, the highest honor the US can confer for achievements related to technological progress.

He was still wearing the pin when he was in Berlin. It was an honour to meet him.