(Written as of 2014)
The high score is much older than many modern gamers may realize. The concept first achieved cultural significance and recognition with the rise of the popularity of Pinball throughout the 70s. Players who could achieve the high score on a Pinball machine were often greeted with a simple congratulatory message, and would then enter their initials into the machine as proof of their achievement. The initials and score would remain until someone could beat the previous record. It’s because of this that the high score was, and still is considered to be one of the most competitive aspects in video games to this day, involving a strong level of one-upmanship against other players. In arcades, many games offer players a free session on another game if they are able to beat the high score of a cabinet. In recent years, however, this trend has decreased in popularity, since they are allowed to play games for as long as they can without losing, but are not given free sessions, even after beating high scores.
The first video game developed to use the high score system was Sea Wolf, developed by Midway and released in 1976. Playing out much differently to convention set by future games, players had to attempt to beat a pre-determined high score in an allocated amount of time, with the reward being bonus playing time. Though the term high score was not yet used before Sea Wolf, the same system used in the game had been used by Taito in their racing game Speed Race, released two years prior.
However, convention was thoroughly defied upon the release of Taito’s timeless arcade classic, Space Invaders, back in 1978. High scores were then determined by players being able to play for as long as they could until they would lose all lives. It was the first game released with the facility to save players’ own personal high scores. Since this marked the first time that players could truly compete against one another, the popularity of Space Invaders skyrocketed, spawning a sequel the following year, and inspiring the development of such games as Star Fire and Galaga.
The popularity and legacy has since continued on to each gaming generation. Video game publications, such as Nintendo Power and Sega Visions, would publish high scores set by players in their magazines; a tradition, which has continued to this day with the founding of Twin Galaxies scoreboard back in 1982. The high score also continues to exist in many modern games of today, such as Resogun, Dead Nation and most recently, InFamous: First Light. This has also inspired the origin of many video gaming tournaments, such as that of Halo and Call of Duty, upon the rise in popularity of the first person shooting genre throughout the 90s. Though they may seem finite to many gamers today, there is no denying the legacy the concept has left behind, and how players still try to complete the objective to this day. Though open worlds and multiple weapons seem to be among the most valued video gaming tropes today, the competitive side of gaming all started with the concept of the high score, and many gamers still see it as the ultimate appeal of playing them.