Atari Co-Founder Ted Dabney Has Passed Away at 81

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Atari co-founder and grandfather of video gaming Ted Dabney has passed away at the age of 81. The electronic engineer was one of the co-creators of Pong, and was instrumental in the creation of video arcade game culture. Dabney was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late 2017, and chose not to undergo treatment.

In 1971, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney founded a small engineering company, Syzygy Engineering, that designed and built Computer Space, the world’s first ever arcade video game. Following that breakthrough, Dabney and Bushnell each invested $250 in startup funding in what became Atari Incorporated. They chose the name “atari” from the board game Go, which refers to a position in the game when a group of stones is imminently in danger of being taken by one’s opponent (similar to “check” in a chess game).

In an interview, Bushnell credited Dabney as the one with the technical prowess, saying, “We were good friends and Ted had a lot of analogue computer skills I didn’t have. I was a digital guy. I knew how to deal with bits and bytes and logic and things like that and Ted really understood a lot more about how to interface with a consumer television set and power supplies and things like that.”

Along with engineer Allan Alcorn, Atari developed Pong, the first commercially successful arcade video game. Alcorn used Dabney’s video circuit concept to create the programming for the game, while Dabney constructed the coin slot mechanism portion of the cabinet. Despite the massive success of Pong, Dabney left the company in 1973, selling his shares to Bushnell for $250,000. Bushnell went on to grow the Atari brand and develop Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre.

In a 2012 interview, Dabney claimed that Bushnell pushed him out of the company, saying “There’s stories that came around after that. But that was the end of me with it, with Atari. ‘Cause it was just— well, actually Nolan had told me that if I didn’t sell out he would transfer all the assets to another corporation and leave me with nothing anyway. So, you know, might as well sell out.”

Dabney spent the remainder of his engineering career at Raytheon and Teledyne, before deciding to buy and run a grocery store and deli with his wife. Though he has passed, Dabney’s work made an enormous impact on popular culture and changed the way we played.

(via Kotaku, image: Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.