Video games have been around for a long time and it is probably not news to you, but this form of entertainment only recently took its place in the mainstream media. Even if you are not a gamer, chances are you play games from time to time, and, even if you do not, you most likely know of them.
When you tune in to your favourite channel, you hear references to Grand Theft Auto’s questionable moral content, Guitar Hero’s accessible gameplay, World of Warcraft’s addictive battles, and the Wii player’s unfortunate accidents. You might even see a movie based on a video game license. How did this emergence into the mainstream media come about for the world of video games? We will take a look at some of the determining factors in its pixelated history.
Atari is the main culprit for getting video games inside your homes. While the first game console was released by Magnavox, Atari really captured the attention of the public with Pong, the first coin-operated arcade game, and, soon afterwards, a Pong console was finding its way in front of television sets. While Atari is no longer the company it was back in the seventies, its legacy shall never be forgotten. Pong, in all of its 2D glory, is still played today and is arguably the most widely known video game of all time.
Then, we have Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun is a force to be reckoned with in the world of geeks. While people in the United States were discovering Pong, Nintendo was busy developing its Famicom, the console we came to know as the NES, although most of us would call it the Nintendo. This system was eventually followed by the Super Famicom. Back then, Nintendo’s main competitor was Sega, which manufactured the Mega Drive (also known as the Genesis).
Following the success of both companies’ consoles, another Japanese player decided to enter the fray by creating the first successful console with a CD format, the Sony PlayStation. And so, for a long time, the market was controlled by Japanese companies, and most third party developers also hailed from Japan. All three companies still exist today, although Sega has given up creating game consoles.
Without Nippon’s giants, video games would probably not be half as advanced as they are today. Their competition with each other forced them to innovate and to reach a broader audience. In so doing, they created a generation of gamers.
While Apple and Microsoft completely revolutionized personal computers, the video game world was already booming when the latter decided to try its hand at the market. The X-Box was the end result, and, while it never gained any kind of notoriety in Japan, it was a huge success in North America and helped Western developers such as BioWare to rise to the forefront of the industry. Although Japanese developers still play a big part in the world of video games, North America is now a serious competitor and has forced Nintendo and Sony to reinvent themselves to try to appeal to more gamers.
Although the Game Boy was not the first handheld video game system, it was the most popular and important one at the time. In fact, it is still possible to find games for the Game Boy Advance in stores, which is a testament to the format’s longevity, considering the original Game Boy was launched at the end of the eighties.
This is important, because, suddenly, you did not have to sit in front of a television set or be trapped in an arcade store to play video games. As long as you brought spare batteries, you could play anywhere you wanted. This liberty attracted even more people and let video games into the outside world for everyone to see. Ultimately, the Game Boy is the ancestor to the games on your cell phones and on your iPods. The handheld market is now dominated by the Sony PSP and the Nintendo DS, which brings us to our next factor…
DS stands for Dual Screen. As its name indicates, the system is equipped with two screens, but one of them is touch-sensitive. This element has led to very interesting gameplay and to huge popularity for this handheld console. Not only has it attracted actual gamers, but it has also brought gaming virgins into the fold.
The same is true for the Wii, Nintendo’s latest console. The Wii uses simple wireless controllers along with multiple position sensors, which means that you can shake the remote, swing it, or stab it in front of you to play a game. The console is so popular that it was nearly impossible to find in stores for months at a time. While it is not as powerful as its competitors, it is much more innovative, and it is through this innovation that it has opened the gate to the gaming world for even more people.
Next up is Mario himself. Who does not know the moustached plumber who dresses in red overalls? Mario has been Nintendo’s mascot since Mario Bros. launched on the original Famicom. The sequel, Super Mario Bros., became one of gaming’s biggest hits. It is also the most recognizable of the plumber’s adventures and the first to introduce the side-scrolling gameplay. Since then, so many Mario games were made that it would be extremely hard to name them all without forgetting at least a dozen. Mario games usually rhyme with quality, accessibility, and humour, so it is no wonder they are so popular. Mario and his brother Luigi (the tall one in green overalls) are responsible for defining the platform genre with their turtle-jumping, pipe-sliding, fireball-throwing, mushroom-eating, and block-destroying antics.
Another major factor in the emergence of video games is the tool you are most likely using to read this. The Internet was a boon to the industry not only because it permitted a brand new kind of multiplayer, but mainly because it is an extremely easy means of communication.
Players can go to any video game website and read reviews about the games they are interested in. They can therefore find out if a game is worth their money. Also, it is the best place to learn about upcoming games and events. Never mind the fact that you can order and even download games through the Internet. Certainly, some people will download pirated software and cost the developers money, but, all things considered, the Internet was one of the best things to happen to video games by making them more accessible than ever. There are now even games that you can play with your Internet browser without downloading any software. They are numerous, and most of them are made for the casual to very casual gamer, or even for those who do not usually play video games at all. For example, anyone with a MySpace account can play one of their “apps”. Games are very simply reaching much further than they used to.
The last factor we are going to look at is one we will call the X factor. Perhaps it is not the best name, but it expresses what we are about to explain. Certain games have that factor and will garner so much notoriety that even your grandparents will know about them.
They are not necessarily the best games on the market, but they are possessed of the X factor. World of Warcraft, for example, has over 11 million registered accounts, a number without precedent in the online world. It draws in people, whether they are gamers or not, as do others like Guitar Hero. Anyone can pick up the fake instruments and play. Its popularity could be explained by the fact that it is a party game the whole family can jump in, but that is not the case for World of Warcraft or for the Grand Theft Auto series. The latter may be controversial, but it still produces excellent games. What is their common trait? It is the X factor. It is what makes people discuss it at lunch or on late night television shows. It is bringing the world of video games into the mainstream media.
We have barely scratched the surface, but it is a good start in figuring out how this emergence happened and how it is still happening. Video games are now a part of the mainstream media. You can see kids playing them at home, on the bus, and even at school. What is more, you can see adults playing them in the very same places. There is a huge diversity within that industry and there is no end in sight. We might even see the PlayStation 32 in our lifetime.