While this blog has concentrated mostly on the earlier decades of video games and pre-Pong game culture now and then, I’ve intentionally neglected more recent electronic game culture. This hasn’t been by design, but more because there has been a need to showcase that video games overall have always been part of mainstream entertainment in a way or another. The world has changed significantly during the last forty years since games became a cultural phenomena, and like everything else, as you grow older the new stuff seems worse than it used to be.
The main demographic of electronic games we’re talking about follows the same lead the one’s pinball and penny arcades attracted the most; teens and college students. Before the advent and birth of mainstream video games, the 50’s and 60’s rough teenager culture flourished within these arcades, making their games more a showcase of rebellious attitudes. This market wasn’t just the only target group, as these arcades were enjoyed by everyone, it just depended on the arcade what sort of patrons it had. The first step towards the modern gamer and the computer game nerd happened with Pong and when home computers became a thing. The combination of people who played Dungeons & Dragons, science fiction fans like Trekkies and radio hobbyists sort of pack into video and computer games because the medium allows imagination to flourish, both as a developer and as a consumer. The problem largely was that it required mathematics and electronic knowhow, and thus the design and input devices were more or less completely bound to a one-button controller, a very specific controller, or a keyboard. While Pong and other consoles had intuitive controllers, a keyboard used to be rather scary device. To some, it still is.
This meant that people who put their time to either develop or play these games didn’t exactly fit the social norms of the time. Bullying people who play games at home, rather than on the field, in the arcades or in a dank gambling saloon was rather everyday event. However, if an industry doesn’t expand its market and renews itself, it has high chances of dying down. With Atari and arcades becoming an incredible force to be reckoned with, penetrating American culture like no other, driven by Japanese arcade games no less, followed by European micro-computers’ boom in the Old World. Despite the Video game crash of 1983, gaming had made its mark on the mainstream audience and culture, and when the NES hit around, video games became more mainstream than ever. At this time, computer games still managed to roll onward, and while their success is nothing to scoff at (just look at Ultima series!), computer games were for a more limited audience due to the price of the machines themselves and understanding of the technology itself. As said, European markets were rather different, with NES essentially screwed over due to mishandling, Sega Master System offering more and cheaper games, and micro-computers being the thing to have.
A third wave of market expansion (or fourth wave, depending how you’d like to count it) happened in segments during the 1990’s. While the SNES didn’t perhaps have the market expansion as Nintendo would’ve hoped, it did manage continue in the steps of its predecessors. While arcades saw their second golden age with Street Fighter II, PlayStation without a doubt had a significant market penetration and expansion, only comparative to Pong, arcades, Atari and the NES. While Super Mario had cereals and cartoons for younger audience to consumer, the PlayStation struck chord with the older audience, much like how the Mega Drive had previously. Wipeout is a prime example of this, as it became synonymous with the trance and dance club culture.
Have a few quick ones in the club, and then few lines at home while enjoying the the game and its music
Nothing else shows how much penetration PlayStation had as its successor being the most sold home console. However, after this point there games had less penetration with the overall culture. Video and computer games, despite being popular and selling massive amounts to the point of eclipsing Hollywood’s sales, had became mundane. An industry like video and computer games doesn’t change by itself forcefully, but has to grow according to consumer wants and needs. If it turns to be selfish and producing more trophy games, sales will lessen. However, most of these games throughout the ages have been deemed terrible and have seen low sales, despite the gaming media praising them at times.
To a person who grew up with video games in the 1980’s or 1990’s, the changes that took place in the 00’s and 10’s , may seem rather disappointing. For those who have read this blog for a long time already should know what this refers to. Games are not only story driven, but at times completely dependent on them. The cross-pollution of between consoles and computer games markets to the point of PC gaming being dead and replaced with a digital game console Steam. Games had become mainstream to the point of everyone being able to access them pretty much everywhere, and the previously set boundaries to develop or play them had been long since been taken down.
The Financial crisis of 2008 made a mark on the game industry. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 were rather expensive consoles to own, but the Wii had a balance of being cheaper and more arcade like games. Despite the market expanding and new people being introduced to games, certain style of games still were the most successful. Wii Sports is an example of this sort of game, which of we never really saw any other like on the Wii. Wii also became a Virtual Console machine for those who remembered NES from their childhood, and now had access to more games than ever on systems available on the VC. Much all other industries at the time, making your consumers spend money on products that they didn’t need was a challenge the least. It was at least at this point when the industry overall didn’t aim to expand and further concentrated on the core consumer group that had been there for a long time, with few exceptions about.
While the financial crisis still having slight effect a decade later, the monetary situation with many is very much different. Companies have introduced microtransactions as an industry standard to the point of multiple companies practicing predatory behaviour for higher profits. However, this would not be possible if the market’s actions would not allow that. While the game industry and market itself has been consumerist, it could be argued that microtransactions and lootboxes have taken things to an overdrive. Corporation’s are very effective on capitalising consumer weaknesses, especially now that almost everyone has access to these games. All this, combined how the video gaming media is essentially just a huge engine for hype and advertisement, further solidifies how much the game industry has become an equally massive machine as its market is. With expansion and new generations entering the hobby, and overall tastes changing globally, some older consumers feel a distaste for what modern games are.
Political climate affects games as any, and games have become increasingly agenda driven at places, especially within certain indie scenes. I won’t go any deeper into this here, as I’ve discussed games as form of escapism first and foremost many times previously. However, ultimately it is the sales numbers that decide how the industry will act, as game industry has become completely reactionary just like Hollywood, and on the long term games that de-emphasize gaming will ultimately see less sales. Much like Hollwyood is all about the big cinematic universes and each movie has to be a billion dollar event, so has the game industry moved towards building massive spectacles in eSport (with Street Fighter V suffering this the most) with both having equally bankrupt creativity. Hell, the current state of both industries is the best argument why neither should be considered as art, but entertainment to the masses. That’s not a slight against either industry in a negative way, much like how visual novels aren’t games. A thing being its proper self is nothing to be worried about-
Games haven’t exactly changed in terms of quality of the titles. There has always been a large number lesser games on the market compared to the gems, that hasn’t changed. However, the sheer number of games has changed to the point of keeping up on all released games across all platforms is almost an impossible task without external help. Information technology, technology overall, ease of development and change in developer/publisher scene have changed the industry and the market. Whatever era of gaming you prefer the best, we’ll never be able to return to that form. The only way to steer the game industry to a desired direction is doing two things I’ve talked often; wallet voting, and being an informed consumer.
The state of gaming as it is now will be a passing trend. In five years down the line, we’ll be able to look at the 10’s and hopefully laugh at all the things we consider important now.