The history of video games started in the 1950s and the 1960s with several primitive computer games developed in the BASIC programming language. Spacewar!, created in 1962 by MIT programmer Steve Russell, was the most influential one.
But it wasn’t until the next decade that the first commercial coin-operated arcade video game, Computer Space (1971), and the first commercial home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey (1972), marked the beginning of the gaming industry.
A great deal of water has flowed under the bridge since then. Today, we have many kinds of home consoles and gaming platforms to choose from, as well as tons of gaming accessories to enrich our experience of video games in various ways.
In fact, accessories have always been part of the gaming industry, with joysticks as the first and most common ones. New types of controllers appeared as gaming technology advanced —from old shooting series light guns to steering wheels and pedals for racing games, motion-based controllers like the Wiimote for Nintendo Wii, dance pads for rhythm games, and virtual reality headsets.
However, there are many other gaming accessories that couldn’t be successful enough to be publicly known, so you are much less likely to have heard of these. In other words, there are various gaming-related patents or inventions that never made it into the mass market.
Here are some of them:
1. Screen Divider
Patented in 1994 (patent US5435557A), the screen divider by Timothy M. Coffey was meant to prevent anyone from looking across the screen and cheating when playing split-screen. In order to do this, this opaque panel had would be attached to the edge of a TV or computer monitor with suction cups. When the two arms are separated, the opaque material is drawn tight to stretch across different screen sizes.
This made it possible for one player to hide information from the other player and avoid cheating, especially in card games and other multiplayer games that relied on secrecy. Coffey expected that some games could be developed specifically to be played with the screen divider.
The invention had to be built with opaque materials like wood, plastic, fabric, metal, or black-colored polyurethane foam (which was the cheaper option at the time). The material had to be lightweight for the suction cups to keep the divider in place, and it also had to be adaptable for different sizes of screens. But it couldn’t be too thick (Coffey calculated a maximum of 1.5 cm) or it would hide too much.
Unfortunately for those with overly competitive friends or siblings, the design never made it to market. We don’t know why this invention never made it into the mass market, but today, the screen divider wouldn’t be necessary as the split-screen mode isn’t even that popular anymore: it’s been surpassed by online multiplayer modes, which allow much more than just two players at once and does not reduce the screen’s size and the image quality.
2. Inflatable Vehicle Simulator
The inflatable vehicle simulator was proposed by design engineer Leo Markowicz in 2012 (patent US20120270663A1). It was an inflatable car in which you could sit to play driving games with an inflatable steering wheel.
The inflatable steering wheel acted like a controller, just like ordinary gaming steering wheels do, but it was inserted into a life-sized car and intended to be connected to an iPad, iPhone, Nintendo WII, etc.
The vehicle’s inflatable design made it portable and convenient in terms of storage. But perhaps it didn’t make it into the mass market because common racing wheels, which have been around since 1994, are pretty small and practical as well. Additionally, they look more realistic…
3. Exercise and Video Game Chair
Benjamin Karl Broderick presented this invention in 2009 (patent US20110086747A1) in an attempt to combine video games —which are usually a sedentary hobby— with physical activity.
It was a chair that relied on real movements to control a video game, providing enough (adjustable) resistance to make the user exercise while playing. It had sensors in its handgrips and footpads, a torso restraint, and a leg waist flexure to record input signals from leg movements, finger movements, arm movements, and torso movements.
The resistance straps use leg, arm, torso, and finger movement to control the video game. The intensity can be adjusted to help users get more of a harder workout.
The idea of being “tied” to a chair may have sounded uncomfortable to people. Instead, they seem to prefer detachable joysticks and virtual reality-based accessories to play fitness games or to add movement to other kinds of games.
4. Attachable Controller for Portable Devices
In 2011, Brandon Workman invented an attachable controller (patent US20110260969A1) for tablets, smartphones, and other portable devices using touchscreens that — some may say — are not ideal for gaming. Workman figured that instead of playing with your touchscreen, you could play with a joystick that you would connect to your device via Bluetooth.
You’d attach the action buttons to one side of the screen and the movement buttons on the other side. This doesn’t sound impractical at all, but for some reason, the invention never made it into the market. However, we can find basically the same concept in many modern wireless controllers for portable devices.
5. Adaptable Game Controller
Created by Paul Chen in 2005 (patent US20050255916A1), the adaptable game controller was basically a faceplate that you mounted on your game controller to play directly on it.
But how? The faceplate had a display that communicated with the game through a chip. So that it could represent on your controller what you would otherwise see on your screen.
The chip could also enhance the performance of the game through software coding. The problem was that each game had to be associated with a specific faceplate. Ironically, the controller wasn’t very adaptable in that sense, and maybe that’s why it never made it into the market. Or maybe it was simply rendered obsolete by portable consoles, which also put a screen between your hands.
As you can see, there are many inventions that, although they never made it into the mass market, may have been a great idea at the time, and may even have been acted as early inspirations for some of the accessories that we actually buy in physical and online stores nowadays.