Etch A Sketch Was My First Videogame Machine

This “drawing” tool foreshadowed early video games

2 min read
Etch A Sketch Was My First Videogame Machine

The recent death of Andre Cassagnes, the electrical technician who came up with the idea of using the response of aluminum powder to an electrostatic charge to create a drawing machine, has kicked off a wave of Etch A Sketch nostalgia.

For me, Etch A Sketch wasn’t a drawing tablet—I had drawing tablets (that is, paper and ink), that were a lot less frustrating for an eight year old. Instead, it was my first game machine. I spent hours and hours twiddling the knobs to create complex labyrinths. Then, I would challenge myself or a friend to navigate the stylus through the labyrinth without hitting the sides. I always included a nasty section of tight hairpin turns designed to trip the player up.

When first introduced to a “real” video game, Pong, I was pretty good at twirling the knobs, thanks, I’m sure, to those hours with my fingers on my Etch A Sketch. (Like the creators of Pong, the manufacturers of Etch A Sketch went with dials for controls, though Cassagnes original version used a joystick.)

By the time my kids were ready for Etch A Sketch, the toy was available in a miniature version that came with transparent overlays that turned the gadget into, yes, a video game. Guess I wasn’t the only one who had discovered Etch A Sketch gaming. I had been holding back on introducing my kids to electronic games,and was quite happy to hand over a shiny new Etch A Sketch at the beginning of a long plane ride instead of a Game Boy.

So thanks, M. Cassagnes. And this weekend I’ll see if I can dig up an old Etch A Sketch and challenge my kids to a maze game. I bet I can still beat them.

Follow me on Twitter @TeklaPerry.

Photos: The Ohio Art Company, the Pong Museum, Klutz

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