Game on at the Science Museum for console fans

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The Independent Online

Played on a computer the size of a small family car, with graphics resembling little more than a series of lines and dots, it bears only a passing resemblance to the sensory overloaded world of modern gaming.

Yet "Spacewar!", devised by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Model Railway Club in the early 1960s, was at the very cutting edge of technology then and spawned a multi-billion pound industry.

The intergalactic shoot-out paved the way for the computer gaming revolution which gave the world "Space Invaders" and "Donkey Kong".

The computer on which it was played, the PDP-1, will take pride of place at the Science Museum's "Game On" exhibition, which begins today and takes visitors through four decades of joystickery-pokery.

The PDP-1 operated on a punch paper tape system with just 0.0002 gigahertz of processing power.

Gaetan Lee, programmes developer at the Science Museum, said: "The internet may have revolutionised gaming, allowing thousands of players to play together at one time using three-dimensional, pixel graphics, but this is where it started."

The exhibition, sponsored by Nintendo, also examines some of the more controversial elements of computer gaming, such as whether it is bad for society, and the effect it has on the body and brain.

But it is the games that will create most excitement.

The first commercially-marketed game "Computer Space" will be on display. Created by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, who went on to found Atari, it predated Magnavox Odyssey - the first games consul - by six months and "Pong", the iconic table tennis game, by more than a year.

By the end of the 1970s, "Space Invaders" became perhaps the most influential game of all time, although non-space-based rivals emerged in Japan, most notably "Pac-Man", created by Namco employee Toru Iwatani, and the Japanese dominated the industry in the 1980s.

The exhibition also examines Communist modes of play. Just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, East German computer scientists developed Polyplay, a multi-game platform which included shooting, skiing and driving. The coin slot was often made free-flowing, resulting in vast crowds of youngsters forming.

According to Mr Lee, the Communist regime allowed it because it featured deer hunting, which was much favoured by party bosses.

* The exhibition runs from 21 October to 25 February.

The great games

* Pong: Atari's tennis match classic was first tested in a small bar in Grass Valley, California. Within a day queues formed outside as eager players waited for it to open.

* Space Invaders: Primitive by modern standards, this adaptation of the carnival shooting gallery concept caught the zeitgeist of the post-Star Wars America.

* Donkey Kong: Nintendo's reworked version of a failing Popeye game was its big breakthrough in the arcades. Also introduced Mario

* Poly Play: East Germany's only venture into computer gaming was a huge hit with the consumer goods-starved masses with the simulated deer-hunts and driving thrills.

* Pac-Man: Devised as an antidote to the alien invader domination of the arcades, Namco's ghost-chase game became the most popular of the 1980s, scoring a hit animation series and a chart-topping single.