As reported by Gamasutra, pioneering inventor and influential video game designer Ralph Baer has died. He was 92.
Often dubbed “The Father Of Video Games,” Baer’s contributions to the game industry are tough to overstate. He invented the Brown Box, a prototype version of the Magnavox Odyssey, which would go on to become the world’s first commercially available home video game console when it was unveiled in 1972. The Odyssey and its Table Tennis game predate Pong—usually considered the first video game to break into mainstream popularity—by several months. Baer is even credited as having invented the light gun, the first video game peripheral, which was a forerunner of devices like the Wii Remote. Essentially, Baer’s work set the stage for the entire video game industry as we know it today.
Born in Germany in 1922, Baer and his family—who were Jewish—escaped the Nazis in 1938 and fled to America. Baer was a radio service technician before he was drafted into World War II in 1943, where he worked in military intelligence. After the war, Baer earned a degree in Television Engineering—and this was in 1949, just to give an idea of how far ahead of the curve he was already—which helped him get a job as an engineer for several electronics companies, including IBM. In the ’60s, Baer and two coworkers—Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch—started developing one of their many video game console prototypes, eventually ending up with The Brown Box/Odyssey.
Rather than just sit back and enjoy the knowledge that, someday, he’d be regarded as one of the most influential figures in a multi-billion-dollar industry, Baer also co-created the iconic memory game Simon and the slightly less iconic Super Simon. In 2006, President George W. Bush awarded Baer the National Medal Of Technology, recognizing his innovative work. Baer continued working with electronics for the rest of his life, telling PBS in 2013 that, having outlived all of his friends, he needed “a challenge” to keep him occupied. “I still get a big charge out of making something work,” he said. “I’m no different than a painter who sits there and loves what he does.”
Young players today might not know Baer’s name or that of the Magnavox Odyssey, and modern games bear little resemblance to his Table Tennis, but his impact is still undeniable.