GS: Let me get back to the light gun a little bit here. So you said you saw a spot on the screen. Did it just make you want to shoot it?
RB: Yeah. Right.
GS: And I guess it just popped into your head, "If it moves around, shoot it."
RB: Who knows where the idea came from. Shooting at the screen is certainly related to light pens, right? Where you put a sensitive light pen in contact with the screen to identify where you are or what you're pointing at. So I moved the light pen back about four feet, and if it's got enough range, figure ya got a gun, right? Put a trigger on it, and you got a gun. Who knows where...My idea might have come from somewhere in the back of my cranium there. I see these things instantly.
GS: How did you conceive of using an ordinary television set as a game medium? Is it one of those things that just popped into your head like the light gun?
RB: It was just a "eureka." You know, I look at the set and say to myself, "What can I do with this?" There are forty million of them in the U.S., and another forty million of them elsewhere, and all I can watch here is stupid channels 5, 7, and 9 -- if I have a good antenna. And if I'm lucky, maybe I'll get Public Television channel 2, and if I don't like what I see, all I can do is turn the damn thing off. And after all, it's a pretty complex display.
The only reason that so many people have it is that so many people buying it makes it cheap, right? Price-reduced item. If I could just latch on to plugging something into a set for one percent of them, that's 400,000 sets. What the hell is wrong with that as a business objective?
So I thought about it and said, "Maybe we could play games." Bingo. And on the next day, in the morning, I sat down in my office and wrote that four page paper. If you read the first paragraph, you can see how conflicted I was, because I first started describing it as a "display system" or some semi-military-sounding word for it. By the time I got to the end of the paragraph, I already said, "screw that." And I said, "Let's call the system 'LP' for 'Let's Play.'"
GS: Before you created the first video games, was there any other application that used a regular TV set to do anything other than receive broadcasts?
RB: Yeah, in the military, they had used television sets and modified them. In one case, in a German patent which I had to defend against many, many times in court, they used a spot that traveled across the screen that was supposed to be a missile that you launched. And then there was another spot somewhere that was supposed to be a tank you were supposed to hit. So they did simulations like that. But nobody thought of doing any of that on a home television set for individual, normal use. That was really the leap of imagination: [to] do something for people with their forty million TV sets.
GS: Yeah, I think that counts for a lot. Just to use a standard home television set...
RB: Yeah, that was the seminal idea.
GS: In the beginning, you called your games "TV games." Do you know how the term "video games" originated?
RB: They were always called "TV games." I have no idea who coined the term "video game." That happened somewhere in the coin-op period, maybe around '73-'74. 'Cause nobody called the original Pong game a "video game." Nobody had heard the term. Somebody came up with it...maybe Atari, maybe Bally-Midway...
GS: It could have even been a journalist, or a newspaper...
RB: Yeah, who knows. It could have been a journalist. To me, it was meaningful because the term "video" is now in use sorta generically for any kinda graphics, especially moving images, on a screen -- any kind of screen. But that's not how it was coined. A video signal was a very specific thing. It was a definitive term that only applied to raster-scan television.
GS: Yeah, if you look up "video" in a dictionary, it says something essentially the same. It's just television.
RB: Yeah, and then it got to be in general use, like how people call a "television set" a "television." [That] always grates on me...grates on my nerves. The frickin' thing is not a "television," it's a television set! Or receiver, right? So the word "television" suddenly becomes the generic noun for a "television set." And "video" just becomes a generic name for anything that gets displayed, especially moving imagery on a screen -- regardless if it's an LCD screen, or a plasma screen, or a vacuum tube set. But that's not how it started.