Today, gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry. But where did it begin? And what was the first computer game? The world’s first video game was an experiment by a programmer from MIT named Steve Russell. Back in 1962, decades before the Atari and the video arcade craze of the 1980s, Steve gathered a group of programmers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to create the world’s first computer game. The programmers spent about 200 hours creating a video game called Spacewar! for a DEC PDP-1 computer. The object of the Spacewar game is to avoid a black hole while trying to shoot your opponents.

“If I hadn’t done it, someone would’ve done something equally exciting if not better in the next six months. I just happened to get there first.”

Steve Russell may have gotten his name in the geek history books but unfortunately, he never was never able to profit his Spacewar game. Back in 1962, computers were considered “serious tools” and were only used by governments, universities, and corporations – not exactly your average gaming consumers.

Can You Play Spacewar! Today?

It’s nice to read about the first computer game, but wouldn’t you really rather actually play it? Finding an original copy of Spacewar! and a DEC PDP-1 computer is almost impossible. There are very few left including one in the Computer Museum in Mountain View, CA.

Spacewar! on a PDP-1 computer
Spacewar 1962: A playable version of Spacewar! on at PDP-1 computer at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

But thanks to three MIT students, Barry Silverman, Brian Silverman, and Vadim Gerasimov, you can play the Spacewar video game today! Martin Graetz, one of Steve Russell’s original team members, gave these MIT students a 40-page print out of the original source code. They then re-typed it and ran the code through several emulators and conversions to get it into a Java applet that will run in the average web browser. Thank you, Barry, Brian, and Vadim! Thanks to your efforts, we can all play the Spacewar game online.


How To Play Spacewar The Game Online

Experience part of video gaming history for yourself! Here’s a playable version of Spacewar! embedded below if your web browser supports Java. The controls for playing Spacewar online are keyboard-based. It’s a 2 person game so make some room on your keyboard for a friend:

  • Player 1: left = a, right = s, thrust = d, fire = f
  • Player 2: left = k, right = l, thrust = ;, fire = ‘

And again, thank you to everyone from the original Spacewar team who took the first step of creating the massive multi-billion dollar gaming industry that we know today: Stephen Russell, Peter Samson, Dan Edwards, and Martin Graetz, together with Alan Kotok, Steve Piner, and Robert A Saunders.

spacewar game