The fascinating story of the Magnavox Odyssey, the world’s first game console

Last week, I realised with a start that the Magnavox Odyssey was released 50 years ago this month*. I was doing some research for a feature, and wham! There it was in black and white. September 1972. The release date of the Odyssey. Fifty years since the release of the world’s first game console.

“Why is no one talking about this?” I wondered. We’ve heard a lot about Atari celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, not least with a nifty game collection charting its games down the years. But I haven’t seen anything about the Odyssey. And considering that Atari’s first game – Pong – was almost certainly directly inspired by the Odyssey game Table Tennis, that seems a little unfair. So I decided to write a tribute to the Odyssey myself.

Image from the Video Game History Foundation

And then I found I couldn’t stop writing, and the resulting feature ended up close to 3,000 words. There’s just so much stuff to say. The story of the Odyssey and its creator, Ralph Baer, is fascinating: like how development started way back in 1966, and early versions of the console used a light pen. And how work on the console had to keep being stopped so they could focus on defence contracts. And how Baer initially thought it could be sold to cable television companies so they could put a live feed of a tennis court behind his tennis game to make it look more interesting.

It’s amazing stuff, and it’s a shame that Ralph Baer and the Odyssey have mostly been forgotten outside circles of retrogaming enthusiasts and game historians. Let’s try to change that.

Enjoy the article!: 50 Years Of The Magnavox Odyssey, The World’s First Games Console

* I should also note that some sources say August – the exact date is impossible to pin down, but the Odyssey definitely came out some time between August and September 1972.

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