“Look, you need action and you need some kind of skill level. It should be a game where you have to control things moving around on the scope, like, oh, spaceships. Something like an explorer game, or a race or contest...a fight, maybe?”
— Wayne Wiitanen
In 1961, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) gave MIT a PDP-1 computer and the games began. The computer game Spacewar! had its origins in discussions among young programmers who had come to MIT’s Kludge room to experiment with the new DEC computer. At first the talk was about making more “interesting displays” for the new computer, but that evolved into talk of some sort of game. Martin Graetz, Stephen Russell, and Wayne Wiitanen conceived the now-legendary Spacewar! computer game, the first influential computer game. For scores of students across the country pulling all-nighters to write new code, Spacewar! taught a crucial lesson in interactive programming: “how to talk to a computer and have it answer back.”
Spacewar!—Interactive Display Conceived in 1961 by Martin Graetz, Stephen Russell, and Wayne Wiitanen; realized on the PDP-1 in 1962 by Stephen Russell, Peter Samson, Daniel Edwards, and Martin Graetz, together with Alan Kotok, Steve Piner, and Robert A. Saunders
Spacewar! Java applet by Barry Silverman, Brian Silverman, and Vadim Gerasimov.
photo: MIT Museum Collections