A Personal History of Gaming
A Battle of Generations.
I read a post on social media which proclaimed the 16-Bit era of gaming was the best. This statement caused a lot of debate. As someone who has been an avid gamer for the past 25 years, having even worked in a video-game store, I completely agree with that statement.
My earliest memories of gaming are from circa 1990/1991. At that time my school would hold what was essential a youth club, every Wednesday evening - aptly named Wednesday Club. There would be a range of activities on offer and you chose which one you wanted to participate by booking a place on Tuesday morning - a club within a club; Chess Club, Cooking Club, Sports Club etc, and Video Game Club.
Video Game Club was, as you'd expect in the early 90s, very basic. The most advanced console the school could afford to buy multiple units of was some kind of Atari - possibly a 2600 or a 5200. Despite the simplicity in today's respects, myself and my fellow class mates were in awe. You have to imagine, there was nothing else like it and for many of us this was the first time we had experienced a video game. I suppose it was something akin to the folks of 1895 when they first saw the Lumiere Brother's film The Arrival of a Train.
And so I begged my parents for a gaming console. I had seen the Nintendo Entertainment System in the Argos catalogue and decided that was the one for me. Unfortunately my mum was against such devilry being brought into the family home. It also didn't help that there was a lot of negative press surrounding gaming at the time and she proclaimed she would not spend her money on a gaming console. That didn't mean to say I couldn't spend my own money on a gaming console...
I had managed to save enough birthday and Christmas money to be able to buy a Sega Master System II. So, in September 1992, for my tenth birthday, my dad took my down to Argos (if you grew up in Britain in the 80s and 90s you know Argos is where everyone got there birthday and Christmas presents from).
So once in store, I found the catalogue code, filled in the slip and was about to take it to the counter when my dad said, "You want a Nintendo really, don't you?" I didn't respond, just looked up at him. He then asked, "Nintendo is better though is't it?" I nodded then told him I couldn't afford one. I recall the price difference was around £30.00. He then told me to put my money away and he bought me a Nintendo Entertainment System - the NES, complete with not one, but two control pads (something which you do not get as standard today), and the classic Super Mario Bros 3 game.
I brought it home and my mum wasn't pleased. I hooked it up to the TV, switched it on and... Nothing. I tried again, still nothing. This went on for most of the afternoon without success. Both my mum and dad said they would have a "proper look" while I was in bed that night and try to get it to work.
The next morning I leapt out of bed, in the firm belief they had got it up and running. My mum said, "No, we couldn't get it to work, it needs to be returned." In retrospect, she probably didn't even try. So I got dressed and went to my friend's house. I told my friend about the predicament and he told me... how he knew this I do not know, as he didn't receive his first game console until three months later... that the TV needed to be tuned to the console.
I raced back home, found the instructions to the TV and looked up how to tune in to a channel. After some tinkering the image of Mario & Luigi jumping around the stage came through in glorious 8-Bit colour. My mum was fuming to say the least. I never again received a games console as a present; all the proceeding consoles I have owned have been bought with my own money.
The love of the NES was short lived, however, when that Christmas I discovered the console was somewhat dated, when my friends received 16-Bit systems for presents - namely the Sega Mega Drive. Having had to buy my own consoles, I was unable to upgrade until about 1997 when I added my wage from my paper-round to birthday monies. By this time 32-Bit consoles had been on the market for about 3 years. Even so, I still could't afford the Sony Playstation and had to settle for a Sega Saturn.
But it was between 1992 and 1997 which held the most fun for me, gaming on my friends' 16-Bit consoles. There could be up to five adolescent boys sat in a room cramped round the TV taking it in turns with the controller. Although gaming is often thought of as a solo activity, back then it could still be a social experience. Even though multiplayer games were readily available, you were still required to occupy the same space as the other players.
While I am amazed with how far technology has come, and you can now play against your friends, or even a complete stranger, without being required to leave the confines of your bedroom, online play is a solitary experience. In many respects, to me anyway, without having your mates there with you in the thick of it, you might as well just play against the computer.
Another thing about the whole 8-Bit and 16-Bit era (and later with the Nintendo 64) was the game being on a cartridge. For those who do remember the NES, you will recall how the cartridge was a monster; almost the size of the console itself. While the compact disc, DVD and Blue-Ray has allowed significantly more data to be stored, the sheer weight and size of a cartridge made the game feel more tangible as you held it in your hands and inserted it to the machine. In addition, cartridges were different shapes and sizes, unique to the console you owned, giving it an other-worldly appearance; a CD is just a CD They all look the same and there is something prosaic about there appearance.
While games today look incredible, and I am in awe at what technology has produced, somewhere along the line they have ceased being games and are now becoming more and more like an interactive movie, with real actors, orchestral scores and in-depth storylines. In fact the last few games I have played (I own a PS4 these days, in case you were wondering), the gameplay itself has been very boring and tedious, certainly not fun - I only persevere to see how the story will progress, rather than wanting to enjoy the game play. However, PS4s Spider-Man is mindblowing!
So why, was the 16-Bit era of gaming (and earlier) better than today's? Simplicity. It was the simplicity of the games which still allowed you to use your imagination and bring something - a part of yourself - to the game. And when huddled up in a room with four or five of your best friends, all using your imagination, well that's when the magic happens; not in the game itself but in the comradery. The more technology advances, and the more complex games become, the less we sadly need to use our imaginations. Games have limits - your imagination doesn't.