The First-Ever Video Game Console Was A Beautiful Mess

Did you know Neil Armstrong pooped himself taking his first step on the moon? Or that the Vikings who reached Newfoundland mispronounced Beothuk as "Buttock" for two years before someone corrected them? When you're the first, you're bound to make a lot of rookie mistakes. And the same can be said of the makers of the first-ever home video game console, who really nailed the console part. The video game part? Not so much.

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The Magnavox Odyssey was -- actually, let's talk about its name first. How did we get from something so lyrical that it evokes epic lo-rez journeys to Playstations and Xboxes, which evoke standing in line at the DMV? The machine itself is also a sight to behold. Despite being the size of a modern console but with the guts of a tape deck player, its exterior nails that beautiful Kubrickian futurism that Sony's sentient air conditioners can only dream of achieving. 

Not until or since the Dreamcast was a gaming console so beautifully pretentious. 
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And that alien beauty is also included in the controller, a ridiculous side-scrolling artifact unburdened by knowledge of Twitch gaming.

Or basic ergonomics, for that matter. 
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But when it came to the games themselves, there's a reason the Odyssey called itself things like a "closed circuit electronic playground" and a "total play and learning experience." Though my favorite is its title as an "electronic game simulator," because it does at least try to simulate what an electronic game could be. But with fewer pixels than games (28), and the kind of games you'd find in a funfair slot machine, the Odyssey knew it had to distract players that it had the processing power of a lightbulb. To do so, it filled its box with all kinds of board game knick-knacks, including dice and play cards (with American state trivia!), but also paper money and poker chips.

 For some high stakes Simon Says.
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But the accessory jewel in its crown has to be its many plastic overlays -- all of which are now on eBay for too much money -- which served as the graphics the console itself just couldn't muster. 

Plastic beats pixels. 

This allowed for some pretty inventive gameplay, all of which are lovingly preserved on the Odyssey Now YouTube channel. Like Haunted House, where players slotted a beautifully bleak castle over their TV as they try to gather paper clues before the pixely ghost gets them. 

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Or its game Table Tennis, which was the inspiration for Pong -- as was its Tennis, Hockey, and Handball, since those were all the same game with a different plastic sheet over them. 

For more weird tangents overlaying a try-hard performance, do follow Cedric on Twitter.

Top Image: Jesmar, Wikimedia Commons

 

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