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Ralph Baer, video game pioneer, talks inventing as he turns 90

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As inventor Ralph Baer approaches his 90th birthday, an interview reflects his thoughts on inventing, videogames, and more.

Ralph Baer screencap credit Ironic Sans
Ralph Baer screencap credit Ironic Sans

Ralph Baer is a name many of this generation's gamers may not be familiar with. Yet if he hadn't invented what would become the Magnavox Odyssey — the first console to enter homes 40 years ago — there's no telling what the industry would look like today. As the "father of videogames" turns 90 this week, David Friedman is using the opportunity to share portions of an interview conducted with Baer last summer on his Ironic Sans blog.

Perhaps most surprising is Baer's apparent disappointment with the path the gaming industry has traveled since his Odyssey hit store shelves in 1972. Whereas his mission was to create a family-oriented device, Baer voices reservations with the current industry outlook, saying games have "degenerated into a one player type thing." Baer's success extends beyond the Odyssey console, which he says ultimately sold around 350,000 units. He holds over 150 patents that have led to other recognizable products like the classic handheld game SIMON.

Baer's fascination with inventing things hasn't waned in the face of old age, although his reasons for keeping at it these days sadly impart a sense of loneliness. A rather heartbreaking section of the video reveals that his wife passed away in 2006 just days before President George W. Bush would present Baer with the National Medal of Technology. "All my friends, they're all gone. I've outlived them all," he says. "I need a challenge." Above all, though, Ralph Baer remains a man with a deep passion for what he does each day. "I still get a big charge out of making something work."