In 1972, Atari launched “Pong”, without doubt the first video game as we are able to define it today. In 1977, a Japanese toy company released Blip, a portable mechanical console supposed to replicate the successful arcade game. It was recently released from oblivion and finally came to light.
Who says video games have to be electronic or digital? In 1972, the American company Atari landed with Pong, an arcade game simulating table tennis in the most sober and basic way possible. It quickly becomes the first real commercial success in the young history of video games. The toy world takes hold of it and declines it in as many clones as possible shapes – and, more specifically, with the first home consoles. In 1977, the Japanese firm Tomy also surfed this surge with one of the first portable consoles which quickly fell into oblivion. The American youtubeur behind the Tech Tangents chain has nevertheless rediscovered it recently and has unveiled its genius design.
The Blip portable console, nicknamed “The first digital game”, is nothing electronic. As underlined by its temporary patent name, found by the youtubeur, it is actually a “Ball-throwing simulation toy.” The screen of this pseudo-console is just a simple black plastic veil. To copy the principle of gameplay of Pong, Blip is the result of an ingenious mechanical system flashing a single red LED across the screen. Unlike the original game’s virtual ball, Blip’s systematically passes through the center of the fictitious separation net before reaching one of three possible positions on either side. The player then has the next 150 milliseconds to bet which button to press to return the “ball” to the opponent. Contrary to Pong, whose programming allows the ball to react plausibly and legitimately to an action, it is actually impossible to anticipate the movement of that of Blip, unless you know the mechanical cycle on your fingertips. The challenge therefore remains daunting, even for a purely mechanical game. Even cheating is not allowed since it is physically impossible to press several buttons at the same time in the hope of maximizing one’s chances. The fact that Blip has remained in the limbo of history for so long is therefore particularly astonishing, especially considering its unbeatable price at the time: less than eight dollars (or 30 modern dollars)!