Why Were Old Video Games So Pixelated?

I get all my news online now, but I grew up with TV news and my father’s daily copy of the Washington Post, so I can appreciate how changes in the medium have changed journalism.

Likewise, I was a kid in the 80s and an avid gamer through the 90s. On the rare occasions when I play a game now, I often stop to wonder at the amazing graphics, even in casual platformer games. When I teach interactive fiction, I do go over why the blocky graphics of the 80s weren’t all that enticing to gamers who wanted immersive stories, and why text-only games had a certain draw. For today’s young people who grew up with Pixar and photorealistic movie CGI, the technological limitations of computers in the 1980s would be historical context they’ll need to learn. This essay by Benj Edwards does a great job on the topic.

The Short Answer: Resolution Was Limited by Cost and Available Technology

The pixelated artwork in older video games—where the display resolution is low enough that the pixels are obvious and blocky—was largely the result of low-resolution television sets and the high cost of memory chips and digital logic at the time those games were created relative to today.

While it was possible to create an HD-resolution digital still image by the late 1970s, the technology to animate it in real-time did not exist until much later. Such technology was far too expensive to put into a mass-produced entertainment product that consumers could afford until the mid-2000s. — How-To Geek