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The First Ever Video Game Console On Display At MoMA

Magnavox Odyssey was created by German-born Jew Ralph Baer, 'the Father of the video game"

By: Daniel Koren
Published: July 2nd, 2013 in News » World
Ralph Baer

The 'Applied Design' exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is a celebration of early vintage video games and consoles, devices that paved the way for the perpetual force that is today's gaming industry.

The exhibit, which originally had 14 games on display - including classics like Pong, Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Minecraft - has now added the godfather of all consoles, the Magnavox Odyssey, crafted by 'the father of the video game' himself, Ralph Baer.

Baer, today a 91-year-old father of three, is a German-born Jew who escaped persecution by fleeing with his parents to the United States via Holland in 1938, just months before the infamous Kristallnacht attacks on Jewish stores and homes.

In the U.S., Baer ran a TV and radio repair shop in New York for several years before he was drafted by the American forces in 1943. After three years of service, Baer returned to the States and attended a technical college in Chicago, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Television Engineering.

With an immense passion for all things electronic, Baer served as chief engineer with Loral Electronics, where he had his first vision of a 'video game.' A decade later, while working at Sanders Associates (now a subsidiary of BAE Systems), Baer pursued the development of a video game prototype and, with a very raw draft, pitched the idea to every major American electronic firm in the market.

In 1972, Magnavox agreed to license and manufacture the prototype, which they sold at $79.99 under the moniker 'Magnavox Odyssey.'

Little did they know that, by producing the console, they would be ultimately making history, setting the stage for corporations like Atari, Nintendo, Sega, and Sony, and bringing forth what is currently one of the most lucrative and sought-after industries in the field of technology: gaming.


(The Magnavox Odyssey)

Odyssey was the first ever commercially marketed video game; though it offered no sound, no graphics, and scarcely any virtual movements, it sold 300,000 units, and most importantly, it introduced the world to a new method of video-based technology.

Now, Baer's monumental Magnavox Odyssey has been put on display in New York's Museum of Modern Art. The decision comes just as a debate on if video games are really 'art' continues to rage on. The museum's chief architecture and design curator, Paola Antonelli, who recently incorporated games like Pac-Man and SimCity 2000 to the museum's architecture and design department, says they are.

"The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design," said Antonelli. "It's a field that MoMA has already explored and collected extensively and one of the most important and oft-discussed expressions of contemporary design creativity."

She also notes that MoMA is fascinated with how these classic games have spawned generations of video games, just as the Odyssey has spawned generations of game consoles. Though many video game pundits will argue that Atari was the first gaming console, their famous 'Pong' game was actually just a better executed version of the Odyssey original.

It is difficult to express the significance of Baer in the gaming industry, though his nickname - 'the father of all video games' - seems to speak volumes of the impact he's had on the commercialization of this technological breakthrough.

"Ralph Baer's Magnavox Odyssey is a masterpiece of engineering and industrial design," wrote Paul Galloway, supervisor of MoMA's Study Center, on MoMA's website. "It's hard to overstate the importance of his place in the birth of the industry."

"If I have learned anything in this process it's that the early, seemingly simple games remain as vital and compelling today as they were when we played them in the cacophonous arcades or on the living room floors of our youth," he added.

Today, at age 91, Baer holds over 150 patents, and was awarded in 2006 the National Medal of Technology for his pioneering role in the video game industry by former President George W. Bush.

Visit New York's Museum of Modern Art today to view the 'Applied Design' exhibit, where Baer's contributions are currently on display.

Related articles: Magnavox Odyssey, Ralph Baer, Father of the Video Game, New York, MOMA, Video Games, Applied Design
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