An ode to the impact of early console gaming.
Allow me to restate that my earliest memory is of playing Mega Man 2. More specifically, Mega Man 2′s “Bubbleman” stage. This event sparked a fire of imagination, set technological gears in motion, and built a bridge to the future. There was a majesty in that game that could only be delivered through the limitations of technology and connectedness of interactive control. At the early age of 3, I experienced embodiment through an on screen character while simultaneously assuming god-like control over his actions. I could control the protagonist and create my own story.
I was in awe of this technology and aware enough to understand its infancy. The more I used it, the more wonder it cultivated. How are games created? How do they make those noises? What would this look like in 5, 10, 20 years? Would I be able to live in these worlds? This wonder drew me to the technology industry.
Enamored, I sought video games as a necessity; something as substantial as food and water. This craving was not isolated to me; it shaped an entire generation.
The sounds, visuals, and interactivity provided a pool of imagination. The limitations of early consoles could not provide orchestral arrangements. Instead, repetitious patterns were drilled into our heads. They not only encapsulated the game we were playing, but they opened the world outside to a new soundtrack, creating a wealth of memories that could be tapped into from a few simple chirps. Hearing these primitive arrangements evolve felt like experiencing the birth of music. As hardware progressed, so did the complexity if the music. Repetitive pieces turned into grand and iconic themes, each game re-shaping the idea and importance of video game music.
While the visuals on-screen provided a surreal sense of interplay between man and machine, screen shots were paintings that opened minds to new possibilities. Images of upcoming games fueled the imaginations of would-be players. Gameplay mechanics had to me imagined. Reviews had to be accepted without video proof. Buying power was dictated by sprite design and blocky imagery.
The sprites we commanded (and spent tens-of-hundreds of hours with) became as familiar and important as The Lone Ranger, Bugs Bunny, and Lawrence Welk to generations prior. From the introduction of idle animations to voice-over and motion-capture, we watched our on-screen friends evolve from blocky 16 x 16 figures to fully realized personalities. 20+ years later, we remain curious about their whereabouts, relevance, and impact on future generations.
They were more than games in the traditional sense. Point systems and completion percentages were only a sliver of a grander experience. The more we practiced and started over from stage 1-1, the more we understood the core of these systems. Gaming taught us to recognize patterns; to harbor patience and solve puzzles. Some individuals would challenge boundaries in an attempt to break games. We could control these sprites better than our parents. We finally had control over an activity that was our own. We knew something foreign to most adults. Some even taught their parents how to play. The student now a master.
Easter eggs, cheat codes, hidden characters, and secret areas were at the forefront of every schoolyard conversation. They sparked rumors and large threads of conversation; the viral video of the time. The possibility that you may discover something first kept your drive peaked. Discovering in-game mysteries without prior knowledge meant profound, earth-shattering news for friends. Phone calls, bike rides across town, and late night gatherings were the beginnings of web-rings and blogs.
Our deep grasp on game mechanics shaped our understanding for real world systems and industries. We were harnessing a rich understanding for technology exponentially faster than the generations prior. We watched the gaming industry push the bounds of not only hardware and software performance but social connectedness. New cultures were birthed and an age where those previously suppressed could open up and find harmony, respect, and support in like communities. The social structure of these communities flourished with ideas, stories, and education. Technological advancement and waves of new and easy ways for the world to connect sprouted from the minds of “geeks” and “nerds”, eventually reaching a critical mass that encouraged everyone to admit and rally around their obsessions. It became realized that those who traced stats of organized professional sports were not so different from those that examined code.
From console gaming’s genesis, my generation has been in the unique position of watching an entire industry shape culture around the world. At an early age, we were empowered with animated characters and settings that we could control. Our imaginations were able to shape stories larger than looking for the princess in another castle and filling in the holes left by console limitations. Like many media types before it, those born into gaming now simply cannot fathom the excitement experienced while watching consoles and games evolve. We have gone along for a ride, curious about what is next, how to be a part of it, and how to change the world ourselves. The addiction to technological and societal evolution stemming from gaming has spawned a fervor for advancement, simplification, accessibility, and enabling. This is why we game.