- Strachey's Draughts, Christopher Strachey
- first first
- United Kingdom (Manchester)
The first videogame was an implementation of the board game draughts (or checkers), programmed by British teacher and physicist Christopher Strachey for the Ferranti Mark I computer. This game pitted a human operator against the computer, with the game board and the position of the pieces shown one of the Ferranti Mark I's Williams Tube displays. The draughts program was first played in July 1952.
Strachey chose draughts as it was a middle-ground in terms of complexity between the too-simple noughts and crosses (tic tac toe) and the too complex chess (which computers wouldn't be able to play adequately until the 1960s). He originally intended to run the program on the Pilot ACE computer at the National Physical Laboratory, but when this was tried in the summer of 1951, it overwhelmed the computer's memory.
Later the same year, Strachey read about the Manchester Mark I – a significantly more capable computer – and wrote to its designer, Alan Turing, requesting an opportunity to try it out. Turing sent him the programming manual for the new computer (and its commercial version, the Ferranti Mark I) and Strachey set about rewriting his code to work with the new machine.
There were a few earlier computer games (the 1950 implementation of Tic tac toe for the Canadian National Exhibition, or the 1951 implementation of the game Nim at the 1951 Festival of Britain), but these relied on static lightbulb displays and single-function computers that could only run the game they'd been designed for.
Though they came first, these games (along with Strachey's Draughts and a few other 1950s experiments) are of little historical relevance to the development of computer games, as they were one-off technical demonstrations and little-known outside of a small group of researchers.
In terms of influence, the ancestor of all modern videogames is actually a program called Spacewar! developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1962 by graduate student Steve Russell in collaboration with Martin Graetz, Wayne Wiitanen, Bob Saunders, Steve Piner, and others.
Spacewar! pits two (later four) players against each other, with each flying a starship around a star with simulated gravity. The controls allow the player to steer, fire torpedos, and ignite their engine to move around.
Over the course of the 1960s, Spacewar! was widely shared, spreading to computing facilities all over America. It was ported to a number of different minicomputers and mainframes, its gameplay gradually refined and new features added. It was the experience of playing Spacewar! at Stanford University that motivated Atari co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney to start their own company (their first game, Computer Space 1971, was a low-cost clone of Spacewar!).