Missile Command was released in North American arcades in July 1980, published by Atari. Later that year it was released in European arcades, published by Sega. While Atari are credited as the game’s developers, it was in fact created entirely by a single designer; David Theurer. This was a common practice at the time, especially for Atari. In 1981 the game was ported to the Atari 2600 and the Atari 8-bit. Often cited as one the greatest classic video games to emerge from the ‘Golden Age of Arcade Games’ it was listed at number eight on Softalk magazine’s 1983 list of ‘The Most Popular Atari Program Ever’ and regularly appears on Top 100 lists to this day. The game’s popularity has seen multiple console releases and remakes since that time, including on the Gameboy and Xbox 360.
This was an intentional decision by Theurer as his aim when designing Missile Command was to instill in the player the same sense of futility and anxiety he personally felt towards the threat of nuclear attack during the Cold War. Throughout the Cold War, but especially during the late-1970s/ early-1980s there much debate surrounding the use of Anti-ballistic Missile systems to defend the United States against incoming nuclear strikes. Theurer tapped into public anxiety surrounding the fear of nuclear attack, an anxiety that would eventually lead to Ronald Reagan’s 1983 announcement of the Strategic Defence Initiative, or ‘Star Wars’ as it was nicknamed. This announcement sparked the release of several other games that seemingly emulated Theurer’s own design.
Overview by Rob Burgess
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This exhibit has a reference ID of CH37478. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.
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