Top 25 "It" products of all time: #5 --The Atari 2600

Atari 2600
Atari 2600

It is written: In the mid-'70s, there was Pong. The single-screen, back-and-forth tennis match seems laughably crude to us now, but put yourself in the mind of, say, a caveman looking at the miracle of fire for the first time. The notion of a video-based game was so novel, and its promise so exciting, that Americans latched onto the concept, fascinated to see how it would evolve.

It would evolve, we discovered soon enough, into in-home gaming systems. Atari was the first to get there on a wide scale, and our fingers have been wrapped around controllers ever since.

In the beginning, there were no "gamers." There were drinkers who were game for anything. They watched the technology slowly develop through coin-operated versions at bars and restaurants until October 1977, when Atari finally came out with its $200 VCS (Video Computer System) for home use. The very word--"computer"--was ritzy. By 1980, when the 16-color, living-room version of the arcade smash Space Invaders was released, the game console, now renamed the Atari 2600, exploded.

Atari delivered its full 4kbs worth of fun. That fake woodgrain trim! Those cheap black plastic paddles with the inadvertently attachable wheels! Those "joystick blisters" worn into the base of every 13-year-old thumb in the country after a long session of "Missile Command"! The characters that flickered if more than one appeared onscreen at once!

Originally published