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Where did the time go? Video game 'Pong' is turning 50

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "ELDEN RING")

ANTHONY HOWELL: (As Margit the Fell) Someone must extinguish thy flame. Let it be Margit the Fell.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So that is the sound of a video game. These days, games have the look and feel of being dropped right into an action movie. This, for example, is from a game called Elden Ring.

(SOUNDBITE OF ITEMS SHATTERING)

MARTIN: Now, this is a far cry from how video games began.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINTAGE ARCADE GAME TONES)

MARTIN: No, that's not your radio glitching. That is the sound of Pong. And tomorrow marks 50 years since Atari announced it would bring all the thrills of table tennis to a video screen.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Sweet. Now, Pong wasn't the first video game, but it was the first one to become a huge hit. Arcade owners started moving their pinball machines to make room for this hulking box with a black-and-white screen and two rotating knobs that controlled pixelated paddles on each side. The ball that bounced from one side to the other proved harder to volley than it looked.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINTAGE ARCADE GAME TONE)

MARTIN: The Pong craze was the unofficial start of the video game industry. Then Pac-Man came along nearly a decade later, and video games ruled the culture. Arcades filled with Gen Xers plugging quarters into beeping, blooping, glowing machines. Then home gaming took over and transformed all of it.

MARTÍNEZ: Today the video game industry collects almost $200 billion a year globally, and gamers like to point out that their obsession now generates more sales than the film industry. And 50 years ago, it all began with a...

(SOUNDBITE OF VINTAGE ARCADE GAME TONE)

MARTÍNEZ: And a...

(SOUNDBITE OF VINTAGE ARCADE GAME TONE)

MARTÍNEZ: ...And a dream. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.