Blips on a Screen: How Ralph Baer Invented TV Video Gaming and Launched a Worldwide Obsession

Blips on a Screen: How Ralph Baer Invented TV Video Gaming and Launched a Worldwide Obsession
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Release Date
May 03, 2022
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An engaging picture book biography based on the incredible true story of a Jewish refugee who pioneered home video games and launched a worldwide obsession.

Do you ever wonder how video gaming was invented? What came before your PlayStation or Xbox? This is the story of Ralph Baer, a refugee from Nazi Germany, who used his skills--and a lot of ingenuity and persistence--to make life a little more fun.
Television was new when Ralph returned from serving in World War II, but he didn't settle for watching TV. He knew it could be even more fun if you could play with it. He tinkered and tested, got help and rejected, but with perseverance and skill, he made his vision come true! This is the inspiring story of a fearless inventor who made TV video games a reality.

Editor review

1 review
Game Box Hero
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Learning Value
Born in 1922 in Germany, Ralph Baer played lots of different games that were typical of his era, most of which involved physical action, often outside. When Hitler came to power, his family managed to leave the country right before the borders were shut, which was important, since they were Jewish. Upon arriving in the US at the age of 16, Baer took a job at a leather factory, but was more interested in the machines and making them run well. He took courses in radio repair, and used some of these skills in the army during WWII. When he returned home, television was an up and coming medium, and he saw the potential in this new technology. He took a job designing televisions, but often thought that the passive medium could be made more exciting if there were an interactive element. He experimented with various versions of a "game box" and carefully documented his process, filing innovations with the patent office. Working with other engineers that he met through his job with an electronics company, he came up with a working prototype of a video game. It took years to develop and fine tune this invention, and his company was not interested in marketing it, because they were a military electronics company. No one was interested in this new type of game, but he finally worked with a television company to sell the Skill-O-Vision game system, that eventually was renamed Odyssey. This was slow to catch on, but eventually became popular and lead to the development of many, many more games.
Good Points
My favorite part of this whole book was information in the text and the page devoted in the back to documenting inventions so that brilliant ideas can receive credit! What an important bit of information. While he lacked formal scientific education, Baer's skills, development process, and record keeping adhere strongly to scientific principles! He developed other products as well, and had a long career in the electronics industry, which is inspirational. Sometimes, hard work and persistence do pay off. Of course, his story also illustrates how if you work for a tech company, they benefit monetarily from anything that you develop while in their employ.

OHora's heavily black outlined artwork captures the feel of the 1950s and 60s with lots of avocado green and harvest gold, and Baer's outfits are all on point, with his scientific short shirt sleeves, sweaters, and ties, in addition to his black framed spectables. The text is set well in the pages, and there's not too much of it to preclude read alouds. While I would have liked a bit more about the names of companies or scientific process, this offers a great overview for younger readers who might struggle with more details, but a great introduction to an interesting tech figure for older readers who might then be motivated to find more information.

There are lots of picture book biographies, but young readers who are obsessed with computers and video games will be fascinated to see that video games haven't been around all that long. Pair this with books about other technological innovators such as Krull's The Boy Who Invented T.V. (about Philo T. Farnsworth), Gigliotti's Who Was Nikola Tesla Saving the Day Parson's Garrett Morgan's Life-changing Invention of the Traffic Signal, or Gilbert's The Marvelous Thing That Came From A Spring (about the invention of the Slinky!).
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