If you grew up in the 1980s, then you probably spent hundreds of dollars playing video games like Pac-Man, Joust, Donkey Kong, or Frogger in arcades.

These days, you don’t need to get a roll of quarters or leave your house to play video games if you have a games console or computer. You can enjoy them at home while celebrating National Video Games Day.

Video Games History

timeline of super mario with text: a brief history of video games

Donkey Kong, the predecessor to the Mario Brothers franchise, Galaga, and Q*Bert, were popular during the arcade era of video games. However, the first video game was invented in the 1960s. While computer programmers at MIT had invented a computer-based game called “Spacewar” that spread to other campuses, it was never meant for public release.

Computers in the 1960s were large and usually found only on military installations or university campuses. The personal computer wouldn’t be released until the mid- to late 1980s. Since a video game required video, it was a television engineer, Ralph Baer, who came up with the idea to create games for television sets.

With the help of technicians where he worked, Baer eventually came up with a ping-pong game that the user could manually control. Magnavox then asked him to develop it to be sold to the public. It was named Odyssey and was released in 1972. However, it wasn’t a commercial success.

Due to lack of foresight, only 200,000 Magnavox Odyssey’s sold within three years. However, another person integral in developing the first arcade video game and first game console, Nolan Bushnell, saw and played the game. He created an arcade version of it called Pong, after starting the Atari company with a partner.

Pong became a hit and started the video game revolution. A home version was created and released in 1975 by Atari via the Sears Roebuck Company. After the success of Pong, other companies got into the game console business, and several were released between 1976 to 1983, including consoles with interchangeable game cartridges.

Nintendo Saves the Industry

By 1984, sales of video game consoles began to stagnant, and some companies gave up their video game lines, like Mattel and Magnavox. However, a Japanese company, Nintendo, released their Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) which became wildly popular. It solidified the industry and helped it to thrive.

As technology changed, so did video game consoles. They became more sophisticated, and several other consoles were released by companies like the Sony PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Nintendo’s Wii. Nintendo re-released its NES system due to popular demand and also developed the Nintendo Switch.

Computer Gaming

Aside from gaming consoles that connect to televisions, serious gamers play on specially built computers. While you can play some games on a standard computer, if you're going to be playing for hours with games that have high-end action and graphics, you will need a better machine.

Pro-level gamers have computers with powerful processors, lots of memory, and high-end graphics cards. While a tech-savvy gamer can buy the components and build their gaming computer, others buy computers made for gaming, which cost anywhere from $500 to $2,500.

Today, the video game industry is alive and well. The value of the video game market in 2017 was $18.4 billion, and consumers spent $36 billion on gaming in the United States alone. There are also professional video gamers who play in electronic sports leagues, which are known as eSports.

National Video Games Day History

national video game day

Although it is difficult to find online, the origin of National Video Games Day can be traced back to David Earle, who was president of a company called Kid Video Warriors. A small write-up in a Hanover, Pennsylvania newspaper showed an announcement for the day on July 7, 1992.

With additional digging, another write-up was found in Chase’s Calendar of Events for July 8, 1991. That was when Nintendo was in its heyday, and new game consoles were being sold on the market. Chase's Calendar of Events is the go-to reference for these unofficial national holidays, and they still publish a book of events every year.

Looking at Chase’s through subsequent years, the dates changed. The first three years, 1991 – 1993, Video Games Day was on July 8th. From 1994 – 1996, it changed to July 12th, and then finally, in 1997, it was held on September 12th, which is still recognized today.

While the day is still widely recognized on September 12th, it still shows on some calendars as July 8th. If you search Google, you will find references to both days, but most businesses in the video games industry and gamers recognize the Sept. 12th date.

National Day Declarations

Like many national days, this one started as a promotion for a business. Anyone, whether a private individual or a representative of a business or social organization, can register for a national day. One easy way to declare it is to register online at National Day Calendar.

If they accept your suggestion, they will send out a press release that declares the day, post it on their website and social media accounts every year, send a media alert to an audience that includes 20,000 broadcasters, talk show hosts, and newspapers, and add it in radio show updates. There is also a certificate that they send out to the person or business who suggested the date.

Discounts and Giveaways

If you search Twitter on Sept. 12th with the hashtag #NationalVideoGamesDay, you may come across discounts and giveaways for video games and consoles. Of course, you’ll also come across countless tweets from gamers talking about which games they are playing, but it could be worth the effort.

Companies that make computer components, restaurants, and game designers promote their products by offering freebies connected to the video games industry. Logitech G offered gamers one of their components in a giveaway on Twitter. They picked a winner from the people who tweeted to them the hashtag mentioned above.

Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurants gave customers 20 minutes of free playing on the in-store video games on Sept. 12th. Xbox UK even got in on the action by offering a chance to win a video game that could be played on their console.

Their followers on Twitter just had to play a game involving stopping a GIF with several photos of video games on it. Whichever game you stopped on gave you the chance to win a free copy of it by taking a screenshot and tweeting them the screenshot and title of the game.

Another company, Audio Visual Life, gave away a Sony PS4 Pro to someone who followed them and retweeted their promotional ad. Since gaming relies heavily on technology, it makes sense for companies to promote these products through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

How to Celebrate the Day

There aren’t any events on calendars for the Sept. 12th video games day, but gaming tournaments, industry conventions, and meetings are held throughout the year. You can see what is on their calendars for the rest of this year here.

Even though there are no tournaments or conventions to attend on Sept. 12th, you can create a fun day to enjoy with your family or play on your console at home. You can seek out an arcade, such as those at Chuck E. Cheese’s, and enjoy a couple of hours eating pizza and trying to win beat the best score on your favorite game.

If you don’t have a games console at home, go shopping for one and spend the evening playing with your kids or friends. It is a great way to reduce stress, which has been proven in several studies. So, if traffic made you angry or you’re frustrated with your job, grab a controller, fire up Forza and work out your frustrations playing the game.

If you have a child who is heavily into gaming, have them teach you how to play and enjoy an evening trying not to lose too badly. You can get your revenge by buying one of the games you played as a youngster and teaching them to play it. Super Mario Brothers or Pac-Man may be good choices.

playing video games on computer

Prevent Gaming Addiction

With any technology, whether it is television or video games, you can become addicted to them. If you have kids, you’ve probably tried to pry them away from their video game console or computer to no avail. They could be addicted to gaming, which is now recognized as a disease by the World Health Organization.

Although playing for hours doesn’t mean your child, or you, have an addiction, there are symptoms for which to look out. They include a compulsion to play games to the point that it is all you can think about and signs like:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Avoiding family or friends
  • Mood changes
  • Skipping meals
  • Poor work or academic performances

Limiting the time spent on video gaming can help prevent this addiction. However, if you simply enjoy playing the occasional video game, mark your calendar for September 12 and enjoy playing on National Video Games Day.