Originality versus reality

About forty years ago a “charismatic engineer with a creative vision matched only by his skill at self-promotion,” together with his brilliant technical business partner, launched from a trade show a unique technology product that went on to spawn an entire industry.

I’m talking, of course, about Nolan Bushnell, the co-founder of Atari and creator of the world’s first coin-operated arcade video game: Computer Space.

Technologizer (which might be TIME magazine, but I’m not really sure) recently posted a profile on Bushnell and the creation of “Computer Space,” which is a fascinating story with, as you can tell, some obvious parallels to other notable success stories.

One of the parallels I noticed is that Bushnell’s first video game creation was in fact not an entirely original game. It was modeled after the action game “Spacewar!” – which was created on MIT’s own computer systems in 1962 by programmers at MIT. Bushnell first encountered it in 1964, and essentially reproduced it in 1971 for mass production as “Computer Space.”

This aligns with Malcolm Gladwell’s (criticized) “tweaker” version of Steve Jobs. It certainly hints at the fact that there’s more to the process of denting the universe than coming up with an idea, and in fact coming up with an idea may not even be necessary.

Rather, it’s the ability to successfully force an idea into the restrictions of reality – in the case of Bushnell, he was able to make a commercially viable computer game before anyone else by leaving out the computer.