Atari Is 40 Years Old And I Still Can’t Beat The Dragon In Adventure

It was 40 years ago yesterday that Atari’s Nolan Bushnell taught the world to play. Bushnell, an engineer and game programmer, built and sold Atari in the late 1970s, ushering in the era of the video game and changing the way kids spent nice summer days. Atari is 40 years old this month and there have been a number of interviews and encomiums with Bushnell.

Bushnell installed his first game, Pong, at Andy Capp’s bar in Silicon Valley where drinkers lined up to drop quarters into the first bit of video entertainment. The company roared through the 1970s and then petered out in the early 80s as competitors created more interesting and visually complex systems and games.

The coolest thing? As Harry McCracken writes, Atari almost invented Internet gaming:

“Warner made a whole series of blunders which were not good for Atari,” he said. One example: “We were going to do this game network over telephone lines, but Warner couldn’t figure out why people would want to play games with people they couldn’t see.”“If we had gone ahead and done it, it could have essentially been the Internet, in private hands. It’s kind of fun to think about owning the Internet.”

Atari is little more than a nostalgic note played by some games makers these days but Bushnell’s company essentially defined an era between high-powered home computing and low-end home entertainment. We owe Bushnell a debt of gratitude and, more important, you can play Adventure in browsers now so you can finally find the secret room.

There’s a bit more on Bushnell on Salon.