I’ve been reading a bit about the history of video games and found this very interesting debate over which was the first video game ever. Most people tend to agree that Spacewar! is the one, probably because it was the first one being somewhat “distributed” or played by several people (in MIT) and allowed for two players to play one against the other. Some other people argue that the first video game was Tennis for Two (1958) or Pong (1972), but in my opinion, the history of computer video games started with the computer game OXO (aka Noughts and Crosses).
This game was programmed in 1952 by A.S. Douglas, who programmed this game is his PhD dissertation about Human-Computer interaction at the University of Cambridge. The game was played against the machine and the player determined who played first, then the player and the computer would play alternately until one side won or there was a draw. The player would have to use a dial phone to specify in which position he wanted to place his cross (the computer moves were represented by noughts).
Noughts and Crosses was introduced almost 10 years before Spacewar!, so why would one assume that Noughts and Crosses was not the first video game in history? Well, the answer is quite easy to obtain: The game was developed for the EDSAC computer and since there was only one EDSAC computer in the world (housed at the University of Cambridge and never made accessible to the public), nobody could play the game outside of the University, hence it was almost completely overlooked at the time.
A.S. Douglas’ project was a huge success though (granting him his PhD) and it was also one of the very first applications of true artificial intelligence. The computer actually responded to the player’s moves in a non-random or pre-determined manner, but entirely decided by the computer, trying to find the best way to beat the player. The game’s accomplishments in artificial intelligence weren’t given too much credit, though, as the study of AI only became a valid science in 1958, when John McCarthy popularized the term (and the science).
People willing to simulate this game can follow this link to download the latest version of the EDSAC simulator (both MAC and PC versions are available).
Below you can also see an animated gif of the game display.