Did you know Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon? Or that the Vikings who reached Newfoundland mispronounced Beothuk as “buttocks” for two years before someone corrected them? If you are the first, you will have to make a lot of rookie mistakes. The same goes for the makers of the very first home video game console, who really got the console part to the point. The video game part? Not as much.
The Magnavox Odyssey was – actually, let’s talk about his name first. How did we get from something so lyrical that it provokes epic lo-rez journeys to Playstations and Xboxes that are reminiscent of the queue at DMV? The machine itself is also a sight to behold. Though the size of a modern console but with the courage of a cassette deck player, its exterior displays the beautiful cubic futurism that Sony’s sentient air conditioners can only dream of.
And that alien beauty is also contained in the controller, a ridiculous side-scrolling artifact that isn’t weighed down by knowledge of Twitch games.
But when it came to the games themselves, there was a reason the Odyssey called itself things like a “closed loop electronic playground” and a “total play and learning experience”. Although my favorite is the title as an “electronic game simulator,” it at least tries to simulate what an electronic game could be. But with fewer pixels than games (28) and the kind of games you’d find in a funfair slot machine, the Odyssey knew it needed to distract players that it had the processing power of a lightbulb. To that end, it filled its box with all kinds of board game bells and whistles, including dice and playing cards (with American state trivia!), But also paper money and poker chips.