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The Original 5 Games that Shaped Video Game History as We Know It

Updated on November 28, 2008

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, video games had their early beginnings. As game design companies put out these revolutionary games (that now look silly and simple to today's kids), each one changed the face of video game history.

From the first widely available arcade game to the first platform game that introduced Nintendo's infamous Mario, these five games influenced everything that came after them.

Let's take a look at where video game dynasties like Final Fantasy, Grand Theft Auto, and Resident Evil had their roots.


On November 29, 1972, Atari released what is often known as the "world's first video game."


Based on the game of table tennis, or "ping pong," the object of Pong is to keep the "ball" in play by moving your "racquet" up and down. If the ball slips past you, the opposite side gets a point.

While Pong was not, in fact, the world's first video game, it was certainly the first widely popular video game, appearing in arcades and on home consoles alike.

The chip in the home consoles was the most advanced chip found in any consumer products at the time. People were already beginning to put video games at the forefront of technology and were willing to spend a decent amount of money to have these games in their homes.

The general public never abandoned Pong, despite its extremely simple premise. Versions of Pong have been released for PlayStation, Sega Genesis, PlayStation 2, Microsoft Windows, and the XBox.

As an interesting aside, the true, original Pong cannot be played on any of these modern systems because of the way modern CPUs operate. Pong was created using discrete logic of 7400 chips, which the central processing units of today are not created to emulate.

Night Driver

Ataris' next release gained much less notoriety, and I think it's one of the most underrated steps in video game development. Night Driver, released in 1976, was the first published game to display real-time, first-person graphics.

This was the first game to -- pardon the pun -- put the player in the driver's seat.

The object of Night Rider is to maneuver yourself (in your car) between the road markers that your headlights light up. As you progress through the eight levels, the road becomes windier and narrower.

When the game was first released in arcades, the car was not actually illustrated in pixels on the screen. In fact, the car was represented by a car-shaped insert made of plastic stuck to the bottom of the screen.

Two different types of cabinets were manufactured for the Night Rider game. One was cockpit style, like the one pictured at the right. The other was an upright cabinet, where the player would stand in front of the screen.

Human Space Invaders Performance

Space Invaders

If you haven't already watched the above video, go do so right now. Don't worry, I'll wait.

How incredible is that? Obviously Space Invaders was much more widely-known than Night Rider, as people are still playing it regularly and investing huge amounts of time to make art about it, like that video.

Space Invaders was released originally in Japan in 1978. It is widely accepted as one of the most influential video games, not just of its time, but ever created.

The object of the game is to prevent aliens at the top of the screen from reaching the bottom of the screen. To do this, you move your space gun at the bottom of the screen back and forth and shoot one pellet/rocket/bullet at a time. Ammunition is unlimited, but as you shoot down each alien, the pace that the next one comes is even faster. The player has three lives.

Space Invaders actually caused a coin shortage in Japan after its release. Japan had to quadruple its Yen supply because of this.

Because previous games had ended when the time ran out, people loved that they could play Space Invaders as long as they could stay alive. It was revolutionary.

It was released for the Atari 2600 and found immediate success with the 112 variations on the original game. These variations had invisible aliens and other slight changes to the original idea of the game. Its release triggered tens of immitators over the following few years and an alien-shooting craze.

Revised versions of Space Invaders with more advanced extras have been released for the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, GameBoy Color, Windows, GameBoy Advance, PlayStation 2, XBox, PlayStation Portable, and Nintendo DS.


Pac-Man broke the obsession with space games, created by Space Invaders, when it was released in Japan on May 22, 1980. Different from Asteroids and Defender, it created a social phenomenon that is a hallmark of the '80s. Pac-Man appealed to men and women of varying ages and offered a huge amount of merchandise and inspired an animated television show.

In Pac-Man, the player maneuvers a circular character around the maze, eating all the dots. After the player has eaten all the dots on that board, he advances to the next one. But watch out for the ghosts (colloquially known in the United States as Inky, Pinky, Blinky, and Clyde)! They wander around the maze, and running into one causes the loss of a life. Once all the lives are gone, it's game over.

Just like Space Invaders before it, Pac-Man inspired a whole new wave of video games, but this time the imitators were maze adventures.

Even so, Pac-Man also encouraged game developers to make more light-hearted games and to create innovative games. So while some created imitations, others thought of different ways to push the boundaries.

Pac-Man has been consistently rereleased in the two decades since its first release in Japan, and it is one of the only games to have so many sequels made by the original creators.

Pac-Man has basically been released for every console created since the Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit, including: Commodore 64, NES, Nintendo GameBoy, Sega Game Gear, PlayStation, Neo-Geo Pocket Color, GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advance, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, XBox, and Nintendo DS.

Donkey Kong, 1981
Donkey Kong, 1981
Donkey Kong, 2007
Donkey Kong, 2007

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Donkey Kong

And, finally, in 1981... the first (popular) platform game! The originator of all adventure games! Donkey Kong!

The Donkey Kong game, released by Nintendo, featured the player as Jumpman who has to rescue the damsel Pauline from the clutches of evil monkey Donkey Kong.

As you might have already realized, "Jumpman" later becomes Mario, and "Pauline" becomes known as Princess Peach.

The widespread success of Donkey Kong, both in Japan and the United States, allowed Nintendo to dominate the video game scene for the remainder of the 1980s and the beginning of the '90s.

All the reasons for the details in Mario's appearance that we now know so well are drenched in practicality. A mouth would have taken more detail than designers could use, so they gave him a moustache. Red overalls provided contrast to his sleeves to illustrate his arm movements. And instead of hair, which also needs detail, he gets a red hat.

And without much thought to the marketability of this character, Nintendo created the face of video games.

The storyline of Donkey Kong was created before the programming of the game and thus was the first story-driven game with characters who had differing personalities that were integral to the plot. No doubt, people identified with everyman Mario and wanted him to succeed against his insubordinate pet monkey.

Donkey Kong, of course, has several sequels of its own, but its greatest legacy, no doubt, lives on through Mario. The Mario Bros franchise took over the entire video game industry and still has probably the most recognizable characters and games of any other franchise out there.


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    • B.T. Evilpants profile image

      B.T. Evilpants 9 years ago from Hell, MI

      Love it! I still have my original Atari, complete with Pong, Space Invaders, and Battle Tank!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Fantastic Hub! -- There was one restaurant near the university campus that kept an old Pong game for many years past its prime. I guess students were really excited about it when it first appeared in the bars along High Street. I remember Space Invaders and really enjoy the video of the human game.


    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 9 years ago from Manhattan

      Super Mario was a huge part of video game history, of course! But it wasn't a "first." It built off of what Donkey Kong brought to the table.

    • LisaPark profile image

      LisaPark 9 years ago from Philippines

      I remember playing PacMan and Donkey Kong..^^ I wonder why Super Mario is not included.

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 9 years ago from Manhattan

      Thanks, Amy and Steph! Yes, Patty, many of these games inspired hit songs, which still seems very weird to me.

      jdnyc -- I took a look at that site, and it's crazy! A college either in Seattle or Portland plays Pac-Man with GPS phones and laptops, but it's cool that this is happening so close to me. Thanks for sharing it; I might have to go down there the next time there's a game scheduled!

    • jdnyc profile image

      JR 9 years ago from California

      Great hub! The video was a fun find! I was doing some research for one of my own hubs and came across this:

      It's the Pac-Man game, played on the streets of Mahattan!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      This is great. *sigh* yes, I'm old enough to remember Pong, too. A walk down memory lane...

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I remember songs about all these games on the Dr. Demento Show.

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 9 years ago from Connecticut

      Fun Hub Helena! Ugh -I'm old enough to remember pong :)

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 9 years ago from Connecticut