A Biography of Video Games

Though relatively recent in their development, videogames have played an important role in everyday life. In the last half-century, video games have become increasingly sophisticated, spanning diverse genres, gameplay styles, and themes. The videogame industry has reported profits of over $8.1 billion per year, and is projected to overtake the record industry and home video rentals, both crucial industries in the entertainment industry. Among these video game types are first person shooter games, games that allow for multiplayer play, and games that can only be played by two players (Steinkeuhler 2004).

Video games are as old as the computers they are played on themselves, first created by researchers and independent programmers in the 1960s and the 1970s. The games were an innovative use of the first shared and networked computers. Despite their relatively recent creation, this form of entertainment has a rich history (Lowood 2009).

A first person shooter is a type of video game that allows for users to complete the game by shooting certain people or objects. This type of game play is unique in that the user views the game through the eyes of the main character. Alternate forms of gameplay would include 1st person, 3rd person, or isomorphic visual perspectives. Some of these first person shooters employ cooperative gameplay, where numerous players are joined to reach a common goal. However, some first person shooters do not make use of cooperative gameplay (Bittanti 2006).

The history of first person shooters dates back to forms of media that predate modern videogames. The connection between film and gunfire dates back in history, with film directors often employing the image of the gun to tell their story. Additionally, the automatic gun was invented at the same time as the Lumieres films became widespread; this coincidence prompted the propagation of the image of the automatic gun in modern film (Bittanti 2006).

The gun would become an iconic image in modern cinema, growing in prominence through the 1960s. At this same time, video games began to gain in popularity. One of the first games – Spacewar – consisted of two spaceships that shot at each other, while having to deal with a star’s tricky gravitational attraction. Though this game involved a gunfight, it could not be played from a first person perspective. However, its use of a gunfight as a key component of game play made it an essential part of first person shooter history (Bittanti 2006).

The first person perspective that first person shooters utilize dates back to the invention of the run-and-shoot with the steadicam in cinema. In the 1970s, Garrett Brown created the Brown Stabilizer, or steadicam, which allowed for film footage to be shot from the same perspective as a traditional tripod, while diminishing its natural jostling. By absorbing any small movements that the camera operator might make, this created a smooth and unique vantage point from which to shoot a scene. This new visual style would become extremely popular, and allow for audience members to connect with events that were happening in the film to an unprecedented degree (Bittanti 2006).

John Romero and John Carmack, two programmers, would then bring this first person perspective to the video game world. Romero and Carmack had both enjoyed success with a prior shooting game, Wolfenstein 3D, though it was not a first person shooter. However, upon seeing the success of the movie Alien in 1979, the duo thought of bringing the film’s premise to life in the video game world. Carmack and Romero created Doom, the first game to permit players to use a subjective camera and the continuous shot, in the style of the steadicam. As players moved through the game’s levels, the camera and the gun became a unit, and created a more personal vantage point for destruction (Bittanti 2006).

Many first person shooter games would emerge in the 1990s and 200, as well as modifications of the original games. Among the most popular are Doom II, Quake, Quake II, Quake III: Arena, and Unreal. First person shooters would eventually begin to embrace team-based play, resulting in the creation of Medal of Honor, Allied Assault, and Battlefield 1942. The first person shooter community has become so large that it has even influenced game development in certain situations. The above-mentioned Counter-Strike was eventually purchased and released as an official game modification by game-maker Valve. Some developers participate in online discussion forums, and others actively recruit members of the community to test out beta versions of games. In some cases, hackers have found problems with initial versions of games and even created patches to fix these issues. Some of these prominent members of the first person shooter community are then motivated to become game programmers themselves (Morris 2004).

There is a large community that revolves around first person shooter gameplay. These individuals participate in online discussions that cover game strategy, commentary, and criticism. Some of these game players may even participate in game development, creating ‘mods’ or game modifications that alter game play (Morris 2004).

Two-player games are games that can be played by two players at the same time. Players can either jointly participate in games face-to-face, or participate in synchronized gameplay through the Internet. However, the emergence of gameplay that would allow more than two players to participate is relatively recent. Gameplay was not a social activity through the mid-1980s, which made it a somewhat niche activity. Most games were single- or two-player, and did not allow for four-player console play until the 1990s. These were the first of the modern multi-player games (Williams 2006).

Multiplayer games are games that can be played by numerous players at the same time, and first emerged in the 1970s. Among the first multiplayer games were arcade games such as Pong. With Ralph Baer’s invention of the Brown Box, these games then migrated from the arcade to the home, and were playable on the television. Arcade games peaked in popularity in 1980, eventually losing ground and being overtaken by the home videogame industry in 1983. Some games originated as single-player games, but became multi-player through modifications of the original software. The popular game Counter-Strike, which enjoys the most players of all multiplayer games, is a modified version of the single-player game Half-Life (Lowood 2004; Williams 2006).

When many hundreds of players participate in games, they are called Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs). These multiplayer games have increased in complexity, developing complex fantasy narratives that nonetheless mirror society in many ways. These games are popular for players of all ages and economic classes. The industry has grown to such a degree that successful MMOGs rival real-life societies in size. EverQuest, a very popular MMOG, would be the seventy-seventh largest economy in the world if it were compared to other countries – with a per capita GNP between Bulgaria and Russia’s (Steinkeuhler 2004).

The MMOGs originated in the pre-video-game era. The game Dungeons & Dragons, was the first tabletop role-playing game with a complex set of details and rules. Its set of rules and general framework then served as a foundation for future role-playing games. The most salient aspect of this general framework that future games inherited is Dungeons & Dragon’s character development model. The card game would also become an independent pioneer in the multiplayer game field, as game developers created a text-based computer game that could be played by numerous players simultaneously (Acterbosch et al. 2008).

A specific type of MMOG is the MMORPG, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. These permit players to role-play, as well as interact with many other players online. These games have intrigued researchers due to their strong social component. The ability to be completely immersed in an online social environment permits many players to participate avidly in the game; regular players average 22 hours per week of gameplay (Acterbosch et al. 2008).

MMORPGs are also subject to numerous problems, in part due to their popularity. Some players may try to obtain an unfair advantage through counterfeiting, hacking accounts, and using counterfeit documents to obtain accounts. Others may violate certain implicit rules that are accepted by the gaming community, though they are not an official restriction on the game. Some players may engage in grief play, playing in such a way so as to purposefully provoke a negative reaction in players, rather than playing to achieve objectives in the game (Acterbosch et al. 2008; Smith 2004).

Researchers have studied MMORPGs for their usefulness as learning tools. Their widespread popularity and the incredible complexity that is inherent in these games has resulted in an ideal learning tool, in the opinion of some researchers. These simulated versions of reality can offer training for real-world scenarios. These games may even facilitate learning communities beyond the MMORPGs themselves, as game players sometimes meet face-to-face and create communities outside of their virtual interactions. Virtual communities have existed to date around numerous mainstream educational topics such as economics, philosophy, sociology, and education. MMORPGs could provide the next environment for such a virtual learning community, as researchers have studied the key learning opportunities within these communities. These are complex and multilayered, and employ diverse communication and social interaction skills (Papargyris and Poulymenakou 2005).

Video games have enjoyed an increasingly important role in human society, and have grown in complexity with each decade. Innovations in computer programming and video game creaters’ ingenuity resulted in the creation of first-person shooters. These games imitate the perspective that a steadicam offers film viewers. Multiplayer games first originated with arcade games, and later migrated to home-based, and eventually, internet-based games. Among these popular multiplayer games are the MMOG and the MMORPG. These games are of interest due to their popularity, and their economic and societal significance.




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Lowood, H. 2004. “Playing History with Games: Steps towards Historical Archives of Computer Gaming,” Presented at the Electronic Media Group Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

Lowood, H. 2009. “Videogames in Computer Space: The Complex History of Pong,” IEE Annals of the History of Computing.

Morris, S. 2004. “Co-Creative Media: Online Multiplayer Computer Game Culture,” Journal of Media Arts Culture.

Papargyris, A. and A. Poulymenakou. 2005. “Learning to fly in persistent digital worlds: the case of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games,” ACM SIGGROUP Bulletin, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 41-9.

Smith, J. 2004. “Playing dirty – understanding conflicts in multiplayer games,” The Association of Internet Researchers, The University of Sussex.

Steinkeuhler, C. 2004. “Learning in Massively Multiplayer Online Games,” Proceedings of the 6th international conference on Learning sciences, p. 521-8.

Williams, D. 2006. “A Brief Social History of Game Play,” in Playing Video Games: Motives, Respnses, and Consequences, p. 229-46.