PLATO computer


PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations) was the first generalized computer assisted instruction system. Starting in 1960, it ran on the University of Illinois’ ILLIAC I computer. By the late 1970s, it supported several thousand graphics terminals distributed worldwide, running on nearly a dozen different networked mainframe computers.

Many modern concepts in multi-user computing were developed on PLATO, including forums, message boards, online testing, e-mail, chat rooms, picture languages, instant messaging, remote screen sharing, and multiplayer games.


PLATO was designed and built by the University of Illinois and functioned for four decades, offering coursework (elementary through university) to UIUC students, local schools, and other universities. Rights to market PLATO as a commercial product were licensed by Control Data Corporation (CDC),  the manufacturer on whose mainframe computers the PLATO IV system was built.

Although PLATO was designed for computer-based education, many consider its most enduring legacy was to be the online community spawned by its communication features. PLATO Notes, created by David R. Woolley in 1973, was among the world’s first online message boards, and years later became the direct progenitor of Lotus Notes. By 1976, PLATO had sprouted a variety of novel tools for online communication, including Personal Notes (e-mail), Talkomatic (chat rooms), Term-Talk (instant messaging), monitor mode (remote screen sharing) and emoticons.

PLATO’s plasma panels were well suited to gaming, although its I/O bandwidth (180 characters per second or 60 graphic lines per second) was relatively slow. By virtue of 1500 shared 60-bit variables per game (initially), it was possible to implement online games. Because it was an educational computer system, most of the user community was keenly interested in gaming.


Many popular multiplayer online games were developed on PLATO during the 1970s and 1980s, such as Empire (a multiplayer game based on Star Trek), Airfight (a precursor to Microsoft Flight Simulator), Panther (a vector graphics-based tankwar game, earlier than, but similar in many respects to Atari’s BattleZone), the original Freecell, and several games inspired by the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, including dnd and Rogue. Moria, Dry Gulch (a western-style variation), and Bugs-n-Drugs (a medical variation) — these all presaged MUDs (Multi-User Domains) and MOOs (MUDs, Object Oriented) as well as popular first-person shooters like Doom and Quake, and MMORPGs (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game) like Everquest and World of Warcraft. Avatar, PLATO’s most popular game, is one of the world’s first MUDs and has over 1 million hours of use.

PLATO Computer Learning System 50th Anniversary – see video

plato music
PLATO Computer Music 1983-1985
by Bill Schaeffer
copyright (c)2009
Atwater Publishing and Wm Schaeffer

Originally recorded in 1985.

Spasim (abbreviation of ‘space simulation’) was a 32-player 3D networked computer game by Jim Bowery involving 4 planetary systems with up to 8 players per planetary system, released in March 1, 1974. Jim Bowery claims that it is the very first 3D multiplayer game and has offered reward of US $500 to anyone who could document an example of a multiplayer 3D virtual reality game prior to Spasim. In Spasim the players flew around in space and to each other they appeared as wire-frame space ships. Their positions were updated about every second. The game was played on the PLATO computer system.

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