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Tennis for More Than Two

Diversity in video games is profitable, but it is not catching up as fast as the evolving world. Why?

William Higinbotham had one job: to prove that a recovering atomic bomb scientist could still be relevant in a new generation that preferred peace and love.

He who developed the timing system for the first atomic bomb, Higinbotham wrote to his daughter after witnessing the Trinity test, “As you know, it was when I saw the first nuclear test on July 16, 1945, that I determined to do what I could to prevent a nuclear arms race.” Higinbotham co-founded and chaired the Federation of American Scientists and moved from the plutonium-scorched deserts of New Mexico to Upton, N.Y., to seek redemption at the newly christened Brookhaven National Laboratory. Part of his goal at the site, which had recently interned Japanese-Americans during a time of ”race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” and provided rehabilitation to wounded soldiers of WWII, was to figure out how to apply the science and technology that wiped out Hiroshima and Nagasaki for peaceful purposes.

In 1958, Higinbotham was tasked with creating an exhibit to feature the instrumentation division’s work. Having led the group since 1951, Higinbotham would have known that dryly displaying sensors and circuit boards just wouldn’t cut. So, to “liven up the place … and convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society,” he and technician Robert Dvorak developed and assembled Tennis for Two, an interactive exhibit where two players play a simulated game of tennis using a knob and two buttons in front of a cathode ray tube.

“Tennis for Two” was literally and figuratively a smashing success, becoming a precursor to Atari’s Pong, the first “truly successful commercial arcade video game.” Gaming has evolved a lot since its early days, moving from the halls of science into devices with the computing power to send a man to the moon and back that could also fit into your pocket. But what about the people who game and those who make them?

Wikimedia Commons/The Xylom Illustration


The demographics of gaming have changed since their origins and have only accelerated since the early 2000s: in 2006, females represented 38% of gamers; by 2019, that increased to an estimated 46%. Over 50% of PC gamers are women, who prefer Role-Playing Games (RPG), while men seem to prefer First-Person Shooters and Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) PC games. People of both sexes play video games but men are more likely to call themselves “gamers,” according to a 2015 Pew study.

The old guard that started gaming as far back as the eighties, when Ataris were in vogue, have soldiered on into adulthood and even retirement. An AARP survey found that older women play video games more often than their male counterparts: 53% of female respondents over the age of 50 say they play video games every day, compared to 40% of males.