When I met Ralph Baer…

In 2010 I had the privilege of meeting Ralph Baer, but for years before then I was unknowingly deriving inspiration from his creations. His games, like Pong and Simon are similar to programming “Hello World”, as a creator you first learn to replicate them and then you expand and then adapt them as you get your feet wet in programming and interaction design.

I told him this when I met him. I told him about the Simon room installation I made with friends in college, the hacked apart DDR mats we used for pressure sensors and the breadboard wired with LEDs. He seemed to light up when I said at one point it seemed we had about 15 people in the space, all playing the game together.

He told me about how Simon had a launch party at Studio 54. There was a giant Simon game suspended from the ceiling. He looked down at the people dancing, but none of them had even looked up at the game.

We had initially met at a Video Games Live and when I contacted him after the event he had invited me to his house. At the time I was trying to find a way to get students excited about creating technology while staying in New Hampshire and I thought the best way to do that was by showing them there was a legend in our own neighborhood. The father of video games who had done just that.

“When I started, this was all considered radio”

Ralph Baer

He needed help finding an intern. He was making a toy car that you could drive across a map and the car would speak the words that were written on the map. He was having trouble with the more modern programming languages, “When I started, this was all considered radio” he said. At the age of 88, he was still creating.

He let me play the brown box. He had me throw a nerf ball at a TV while playing duck hunt (it worked just like the light gun… but Nintendo didn’t think parents would like kids throwing objects at the TV.) He seemed to like seeing people interact with his creations and was excited to hear about what others were making.

When I talked to him, he didn’t really want another award, he was more interested in being an inspiration, being the person to motivate creation- and that’s what he is to me.