Tennis for Two

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Tennis For Two
Tennis For Two on a DuMont Lab Oscilloscope Type 304-A.jpg
Publisher(s) William Higinbotham
Designer(s) William Higinbotham
Platform(s) Analog computer/Oscilloscope
Release date(s) October 18, 1958
Genre(s) Tennis/Ping pong

Tennis For Two was an electronic game developed in 1958 on a Donner Model 30 analog computer, which simulates a game of tennis or ping pong on an oscilloscope. Created by American physicist William Higinbotham for visitors at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, it is important in the history of video games as one of the first electronic games to use a graphical display.


The set-up for Tennis for Two as exhibited in 1959.

Higinbotham created Tennis for Two to cure the boredom of visitors to Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he worked.[1] He learned that one of Brookhaven's computers could calculate ballistic missile trajectories and he used this ability to form the game's foundation.[2] The game was created on a Donner Model 30 analog computer.[3] The game uses an oscilloscope as the graphical display to display the path of a simulated ball on a tennis court. The designed circuit displayed the path of the ball and reversed its path when it hit the ground. The circuit also sensed if the ball hit the net and simulated velocity with drag.[4] Users could interact with the ball using an analog aluminum controller[5] to click a button to hit the ball and use a knob to control the angle.[6] Hitting the ball also emitted a sound.[7] The device was designed in about two hours and was assembled within three weeks with the help of Robert V. Dvorak.[8] Excluding the oscilloscope and controller, the game's circuitry approximately took up the space of a microwave oven.[5]

Higinbotham recalled the game's genesis, saying in 1983,

The instruction book that came with the computer described how to plot trajectories and bouncing shapes, for research. I thought, "Hell, this would make a good game." [Working with colleague Dave Potter], it took me four hours to design one and a technician a couple of weeks to put it together. ... Everybody stood in line to play [at the open house]. The other exhibits were pretty static, obviously. ... The game seemed to me sort of an obvious thing. Even if I had [wanted to patent it], the game would've belonged to the government.[9]

Though there was no direct kinship between the two games, Tennis for Two was a predecessor of Pong—one of the most widely recognized video games as well as one of the first. Tennis for Two was brought out only twice, on "Visitor's Day" at the Laboratory. It remained virtually unheard of until the late 1970s and early 1980s when Higinbotham was called on to testify in court cases for defendants against Magnavox and Ralph Baer.[4] Unlike Pong and similar early games, Tennis for Two shows a simplified tennis court from the side instead of a top-down perspective, with no representation of the player on the screen. The perspective shows more of the ball's trajectory than Pong's view.[10] The ball is affected by gravity and must be played over the net. The game was controlled by an analog computer and "consisted mostly of resistors, capacitors and relays, but where fast switching was needed—when the ball was in play—transistor switches were used."[6][11]


The game was first shown on October 18, 1958.[12] Hundreds of visitors lined up to play the new game during its debut.[5] Due to the game's popularity, an upgraded version was shown the following year, with enhancements including a larger screen and different levels of simulated gravity.[7]


1997 recreation of the Tennis for Two set-up.

Higinbotham's device was dismantled after the exhibition, and Tennis for Two was largely forgotten for more than 20 years. Its significance to the early development of video games became better recognized in 1983, when he was interviewed on the history of video games for Video Review magazine[9] and when a Creative Computing cover story on Higinbotham dubbed him the "Grandfather of Video Games".[13] Higinbotham remained uninterested in video games, preferring to be remembered for his nuclear nonproliferation work.[14]

In 1997, a team at Brookhaven recreated the game for Brookhaven's 50th birthday. The feat took about three months, partially because the parts were not readily available. This recreation was also displayed at the 2008 celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the original game.[5][15] The replica implemented an analog computer using solid-state operational amplifier devices instead of vacuum tubes as the original Donner Model 30 did. In 2010, a restored Donner Model 3400 analog computer was used.[3]


  1. ^ "Video Games—Did They Begin at Brookhaven?". Office of Scientific and Technical Information. 1981. Archived from the original on 2015-10-18. Retrieved 2008-11-11. 
  2. ^ Nowak, Peter (2008-10-15). "Video games turn 50". CBC News. Archived from the original on 2015-10-16. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  3. ^ a b Snyder, Kendra (2010-12-14). "Resurrecting One of the World’s 1st Video Games". Brookhaven Bits & Bytes. Archived from the original on 2015-03-27. Retrieved 2012-07-16. 
  4. ^ a b Campbell, Hank (2009-01-27). "What Was The First Computer Game?". Archived from the original on 2015-11-19. 
  5. ^ a b c d Kalning, Kristin (2008-10-23). "The anatomy of the first video game". MSNBC. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  6. ^ a b Brookhaven National Laboratory (1981). "Video Games – Did They Begin at Brookhaven?". Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  7. ^ a b Lambert, Bruce (2008-11-07). "Brookhaven Honors a Pioneer Video Game". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  8. ^ Hunter, William, ed. "Tennis For Two - Precursors". TheDotEaters,com. Archived from the original on 2015-08-02. Retrieved 2015-11-19.  Includes public-domain video of '"Tennis for Two
  9. ^ a b Lovece, Frank (June 1983). "The Honest-to-Goodness History of Home Video Games". Video Review. p. 40. Archived from the original on 2015-11-19. Retrieved 2013-09-13. 
  10. ^ von Borries, Friedrich; Matthias Böttger (2007). "Tennis for Two/Pong: Spatiality in Abstract 2D Environments". Space Time Play Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism: the Next Level. Birkhäuser Basel. ISBN 978-3-7643-8414-2. 
  11. ^ "The First Video Game?". Brookhaven National Laboratory. Archived from the original on October 16, 2015. Retrieved November 19, 2015. 
  12. ^ Nosowitz, Dan (2008-11-08). "Retromodo: 'Tennis for Two', the World's First Graphical Videogame". Gizmodo. Archived from the original on 2015-09-06. Retrieved 2008-11-09. 
  13. ^ Chaplin, Heather; Ruby, Aaron (2005). Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution. Algonquin Books. pp. 35–36. ISBN 1-56512-346-8. Retrieved 2014-02-07. 
  14. ^ Chaplin, Ruby, p. 36
  15. ^ Greenberg, Diane (2008-11-03). "Celebrating 'Tennis for Two' With A Video Game Extravaganza" (Press release). Brookhaven National Laboratory. Archived from the original on 2015-11-19. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 

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