A History of Gaming: From Pinball and Monopoly to Minecraft and Wordle

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Duration 01:06:34

Purdue University

Robert Howard is Professor of Practice in the Computer Graphics Technology department at Purdue University, where he teaches game design and game history.  Previously, Rob worked in Silicon Valley for 21st Century Fox and Disney at Cold Iron Studios and was a designer on hit video games such as Despicable Me: The Game, Bioshock Infinite, and Batman: Arkham Origins. He recently published A Career in the Video Game Industry for eAcademicPress and is working on the game design textbook Game Design Fundamentals.



In the 19th century, publisher Milton Bradley created The Checkered Game of Life, which launched the board game industry. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, an inventor named Montague Redgrave submitted a patent for “Improvements in Bagatelles,” thereby creating the precursor to the modern-day pinball machine. Over a century later, games are everywhere: in your home, at the arcade, and in your pocket!

From crossword puzzles to Minecraft to Wordle, is there anyone who does not play games today? In this fun class, Professor Howard will examine the history of games, beginning with the industrial revolution and how it influenced the demand for leisure activities from the first coin-operated amusements to the rise of digital entertainment in the late 20th century. We’ll look at: how the 19th century gave us our first true game designers, the Prussian war game that influenced every video game played today, and the circus carnival worker-turned-entrepreneur who turned the world upside down by creating Atari.  Not only will you learn where the games we play come from, but you might just learn something about why humans play them in the first place.


Recommended Reading:

Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons, by Jon Peterson

The Ultimate History of Video Games, by Stephen L. Kent

It’s All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan, by Tristan Donovan

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your favorite game to play?
  2. Is there a game from your youth that isn’t played anymore that you wish was still around?
  3. H.G. Wells developed his game called “Little Wars” despite being a pacifist. Why do you think many games focus on martial conflict?




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Sammy Fischer

Great talk

Very good host, going as deep into this rather broad topic as the time allowed in an entertaining way. Being more of a C64/Amiga/PC guy myself, I’d have liked to hear more from that front for the 80s-2000 section, but I completely understand the bias toward consoles. A Must watch to anybody even remotely interested in games.

1 year ago


1) When you show one of the first electromechanical pinball machines, you indicate that when the Special is lit, hitting a target gives you a free ball. That is not true and that bonus ball feature did not come until later. That is because the electronics had not been sufficiently improved. If you look back closely you will see that after you deposited your nickel, a rack of five balls rolled down into a space that would allow you to push a device and lift a ball into the space (shooting lane) allowing you to actuate the plunger. However, once the ball was in play, a small metal barrier was tripped back to a vertical position (which is what held the five balls in place originally before the game began) which blocked the pinballs from traveling further when a ball left the playing field. The electronics to count balls didn’t come until later. What you actually got by hitting a target when the Special was lit was a free game. This was an item that mechanically registered on the scoreboard and was announced by a very loud and pleasing “kerplunk.” 2) Gravity in Space Race was due to the Sun, not a Black Hole. This would allow you to orbit the Sun or crash into the Sun if you weren’t careful. (How do I know this? I was at MIT when Space Race or Space Chase was being played.) 3) PAC-MAN WAS geared to attract Females. It was thought that previous video games were simply too violent as they all had as their premise shooting weapons and explosions. It was thought that a game was needed that was non-violent to attract women and PAC-Man’s design was intended to be non-violent and successfully attracted both genders.

1 year ago
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