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5 Great People Who Helped Build the Video Game Industry

As we start this shiny new decade and try to get used to writing the date as 2019 2020, many people are in a reflective mood. It’s exciting to speculate what the future may hold, especially when you look back and see how far we’ve come. Video games are no exception.

Depending on your age, you may have been witness to quite a bit of gaming history over the course of your life. But how much do you really know about the people who helped make gaming what it is today? Obviously, this isn’t a complete list of every important person in the history of video games, but it’s a good start.

#5: Nasir Gebelli

Born in Iran in 1957, Gebelli immigrated to the US in the late 1970s to study computer science. After becoming enthralled with arcade games like Space Invaders, he wrote a character creation program for the Apple II computer, called EasyDraw, which he then used to begin programming his own video games. Gebelli was eventually hired by Squaresoft, and you may have heard of his work (small titles like Final Fantasy and Secret of Mana, to name a few). Even today, he is considered one of the greatest programmers ever and is often cited as an influence by other game makers, such as John Romero (maker of Quake and Doom) and Mark Turmell (maker of Smash TV and NBA Jam).

#4: Gunpei Yokoi

Born in Japan in 1941, Yokoi began working at Nintendo back when the company was still selling toys and playing cards, and this would eventually stretch into a 30+ year career. Yokoi is best known as the creator of the Game Boy, but his list of other accomplishments is so monumental as to be overwhelming. He invented the cross design for the control pad. He invented the Game and Watch series, the handheld precursor to the Game Boy. He’s also responsible for titles like Metroid and Kid Icarus. He even invented the Virtual Boy, and although it was a commercial failure, it was an innovation that was clearly ahead of its time.

#3: Joyce Weisbecker

Born in New Jersey in 1958, Weisbecker learned to program computers as a child from her engineer father, who built them at home in his spare time. While attending Rider University, she began programming games for the RCA Studio II console. Her titles include games like Snake Race, Jackpot, and TV Schoolhouse I, which was the first commercial game ever designed by a woman. When the RCA Studio II ended production, she went on to design games for the COSMAC VIP, including Sequence Shoot and Slide.

#2: Mabel Addis

Born in New York in 1912, Addis graduated with degrees in history and psychology before beginning a 40+ year career as a teacher. What does any of this have to do with video games? In the 1960s, Addis partnered with IBM to design an educational computer game for children. The result of their efforts was The Sumerian Game, a text-based strategy game centered on Mesopotamian economics. Despite the fact that few people know of The Sumerian Game today, it has been widely influential. It was also history’s first narrative game, which makes Addis the first video game writer.

#1: Ralph Baer

Often called the “Father of Video Games,” Baer was born in 1922 in Germany. His Jewish family fled to the US in 1938 to escape the growing Nazi influence in their homeland, and Baer later became an American citizen and served his new country in World War II. Afterwards, he worked in the electronics industry and eventually wondered what it would take to be able to play video games at home on a TV screen. Several prototypes later, the Magnavox Odyssey was born, the first home gaming console. Baer continued inventing for the rest of his life, and at the time of his death in 2014, he held over 150 patents.