Atari: The Origins of the Name

Atari: The Origins of the Name

“Not only is Go a great game, but I think it's also good discipline for your brain for being an entrepreneur. In business, you need to think far ahead in playing your moves sequentially. When you play a lot of chess or Go, that makes your mind always think about strategies in a sequential way – which is very helpful.” - Nolan Bushnell (Reddit AMA, 2014)

The name Atari originates from the ancient board game Go, which is still actively played by tens of millions of people worldwide. This abstract strategy game is played with white and black stones on a grid of black lines. While Go on the surface is simpler than chess, it is arguably at least as deep and complex a game.

Go was invented in China over 2500 years ago, but it was the Japanese who introduced the game to the Western world. This is why most of the gameplay jargon is still in Japanese. The word “atari” is an important gameplay term, somewhat similar in meaning to the term check in chess. The word itself translates to “hitting a target” or “receiving something fortuitously”.

For the company, the name was not just a cool-sounding word. The co-founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell, was a huge fan of the game. So much so, that even two other company name candidates, “Sente” and “Hane”, are borrowed from Bushnell's favourite board game. The Atari boss remains an avid Go player and thinks it can teach important skills needed in the business world.

Following the victory of an AI over multiple Go champion Lee Sedol in 2016, the documentary AlphaGo looks at what artificial intelligence can tell us about humanity.

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