Atari co-founder Ted Dabney died on May 26th at the age of 81, following a diagnosis of esophageal cancer in late 2017, which, according to his friends, he opted against receiving treatment for after being told he only had eight months to live.
Born in 1937, Dabney worked a number of jobs in electronics before moving into video games. Enlisting in the Marine Corps, he took courses on electronics that sparked his interest in the field. After the Corps, he worked at Bank of America before moving on to Ampex, an electronics company that specialized in reel-to-reel tape recorders, where he met future Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell and came up with the idea for coin-operated game systems. Bushnell and Dabney would spin off to create the company Syzygy (later re-named Atari) and create their first game Computer Space, which Dabney pieced together using standard components of a television creating a video circuit that served as a precursor to Pong.
News of his death was, according to Euro Gamer, first reported on Facebook by close friend and video game historian Leonard Herman, who wrote about Dabney’s story for a feature article in Edge Magazine back in 2009 titled “The Untold Atari Story.” Leonard’s post reads, “I just learned that my good friend, Ted Dabney, the co-founder of Atari, passed away at the age of 81. RIP dear friend. Your legacy will live on a long time!”
Dabney's contributions to video gaming were often overshadowed, and sometimes contradicted, by his Atari co-founder Bushnell, who opted to patent Dabney’s video circuit idea without Dabney’s name. The two had a falling out that led to Dabney’s departure from the company in the 1970s. While he would start his own company in Syzygy Game Company and continued to work with Bushnell as an employee at various times in his career, he eventually left the industry altogether to run a grocery store with his wife in California and moved to Washington in his retirement.
News of his death has prompted reactions and celebrations of his lasting impact to the field, from many in the industry including Video Game Preservation historian Patrick Scott Patterson, who wrote ,“Crushed to learn about the passing of my friend… Always so grace and humble,” and Digital Eclipse Head of Development Mike Mika who tweeted, “His video circuit powered Computer Space and Pong, and inspired an entire industry. RIP.”