IVA 100 years: From defence technology to pastime

In just under 60 years computer games have gone from bulky combat simulators to a gaming and hobby industry with multibillion kronor sales. IVA has followed the development and has some points of view about the future.

Computer games are a natural pastime of many young people today. But they are a relatively recent invention – the first real Swedish computer game is thought to have been invented in 1960.

“It was created by a man called Göran Sundqvist, even though he didn’t know what a computer game was at the time,” says Peter Du Reitz, a curator and researcher at the Swedish National Museum of Science and Technology (Tekniska museet,) which was founded by IVA in 1923.

Sundqvist created his game on the first Swedish transistor computer, the Datasaab D2 (also called SANK). D2 was a product of the chilliest period of the Cold War and was a prototype of a computer for a future Swedish nuclear missile.

“The project was subsequently cancelled, but there was money left over for computer development and that’s then they developed the computer to be used in a future Swedish fighter jet – what would become the Viggen,” says du Reitz.

To show the top brass in the military what a computer in an aircraft could do, Göran Sundqvist and his colleagues were asked to create something remarkable. The result was a sort of computer game with missiles that could be fired towards a target and adjusted in terms of speed, wind-force etc.

The Swedish computer gaming industry’s infancy was, in other words, about deadly serious things – nuclear missiles and fighter jets. It wasn’t until much later on that the industry changed course and then came the great computer gaming revolution in Sweden.

Today computer games are an important knowledge area and a magnet among universities and emerging companies in Sweden. Companies such as Mojang (which developed the global hit Minecraft), Dice (Battlefield), King (Candy Crush) and many others have multibillion kronor sales and have shaped Sweden’s image as a computer game nation.

IVA has also recognised the importance of computer games in recent years, for example at a workshop under the heading “Computer Games – next step towards internationally attractive area of excellence” in 2016. The workshop was part of the IVA project Attractiveness for Sustainable Growth involving its “Computer Games top gun team”.

“Today it’s fair to say that gaming companies and the innovative environments around them are well established. We have clusters in Södermalm in Stockholm, Skövde, Skellefteå and Malmö/Lund,” says Johan Carlstedt who was the Project Director for Attractiveness for Sustainable Growth.

The computer gaming industry is also having positive effects on other industries. One example is Lundqvist Trävaru AB, which this year was awarded a prize in a competition within IVA’s Smart Industry project, largely thanks to the gaming logic built into the company’s offering.

“They developed their ordering software in a gaming environment so that customers can see floors, ceilings, wallpaper etc., and they also get a shopping list and construction company recommendations,” says Carlstedt.

To be honest, interest in computer games is a relatively new thing at IVA. An Academy report under the heading “Technology to invest in” from 1979 recommended “moderate investment” in increasing the use of computer technology, among other things because “personal computers are […] doubtful from a market perspective” and that “it’s doubtful whether computerised information systems are what people want.”