March 2012

Inventor Portrait: Ralph Baer

March 4, 2012

Ralph Baer is sometimes known as the father of video games. One of his early inventions, sold as the Magnavox Odyssey, was the first home video game system.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Odyssey, and this week is Ralph Baer’s 90th birthday. So it seemed like a good time to share this video from my interview and shoot with Ralph in which we discuss, among other things, why he’s still inventing at 90 years old.

At one point in our interview he expressed frustration that modern kids don’t read anymore because they’re too busy playing with their smartphones. So I asked him if he thinks kids play too many video games today. Did he accidentally unleash a monster with his invention? His answer:

Yeah. I did a bit. What I thought I unleashed was a family game. If you’ll stop to consider for a second, what’s the ping pong game? You can’t play ping pong with yourself. It was meant to be played by two people. And we had four-handed ping pong and hockey games early on, also. I always thought of it as a family game. And it just sort of degenerated into a one player type thing which was never in my mind.

One trend I’ve seen in my project is that inventions sometimes evolve into something the inventor never imagined. In this case, though, I think I see a pendulum swinging back in Baer’s direction with consoles like the Nintendo Wii, which put an emphasis on group play.

Anyway, Happy 90th Birthday, Ralph!