Remembering Ralph Baer: The Father of an art form

It’s not often that the death of a public figure saddens me.

I cried not a drop when Reagan went off into the great beyond, I did not drape myself in black for days following the death of Robin Williams (Nanu! Nanu!) and I even made crude comments towards people online who were upset over the death of Paul Walker (Seriously, he wasn’t your best friend, no need to tell me that you hope I die or get ran over by a bus driven by people infected with HIV, really childish guys). But for once, I felt a slight tinge of sadness as I woke up this morning and sat down at my desk to work on final class projects and eat my Sunday dinner.

Flipping over to Kotuku, I clicked through the usual mix of non-stories and lame click-bait until I discovered a piece of reporting that drew me in. On Saturday at 4:02 P.M., Luke Plunkett reported that Ralph Baer, a man widely regarded as the father of the entire video game industry, had passed away at the age of 92. As I sat and read this news, I began to feel a tad off.

Within my stomach, a strange knot began to form. Oddly, I felt like I was on a roller coaster of some sort. I couldn’t get up, but I couldn’t continue to focus on anything in front of me either. Instead, I stared silently into the distance for a good 15 minutes, digesting what I had read.

For mainstream audiences, Baer is known as the co-inventor of  Simon, that ever so challenging electronic toy/game that was all the rage in the 1980’s. As a child of the video game generation, I have a much more revered and deeply respectful view of this recently departed genius.

There’s not a lot I can write here about Baer that hasn’t already been said in the mainstream press. Everyone already knows how this humble Jewish man escaped Nazi Germany with his family, went on to serve in the military and lead an amazing life in America, but few know of his contributions to that all too new and sometimes unfairly kicked around form of art that is the video game.

Ever use a joystick? Whether in an arcade or inside of someone’s home, this piece of equipment has long been a staple ingredient for fighting games and flight simulators through the years. Baer thought of it first. Inspired by military flight control sticks in the 60’s, Baer and partner Bill Harrison would go on to create the “Brown Box”, the prototype of what would become the first game console in existence, the Magnavox Odyssey. Oh, and “Pong”, they thought of that too. In spite of what Nolan Bushnell and the men from the glory days of Atari would tell you.

Though Mr. Baer is gone, his legacy will live on through the industry he single handedly hatched in the late 1960’s. In the future, when I go into an arcade and pick up a light gun attachment to play House of the Dead, I will remember Mr. Baer.

When I engross myself in the next great home console shooter, I will remember Mr. Baer.

Finally everyone, I want to remind you of one thing about this man and his great achievements, when he was starting out, people thought he was crazy and advised him to “quit screwing around”. If in doubt, that’s how you know you’re on to something my diamonds. When other people don’t like it, it’s probably a good idea.

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