(not so) Grumpy Gurevitz: Gamers, gamers, everywhere!

Wow, what a year so far. Is this a golden year in gaming?

Let’s see what we have here, in our little gaming industry. We have, a choice of not one but two PlayStation 4 consoles, and the same for the Xbox Platform. PC is still going strong, with a ton of specialist gaming-tailored solutions, from cool chassis options to game-centric GPUs such as the AMD Threadripper range. Nintendo is back with the Switch, and a still very solid 3/2DS platform.

Apart from that, the retro scene is going from strength to strength; whether that be via MAME solutions, the ton of retro consoles coming out of China, or cult reproductions such as the SNES mini. Heck, even Atari want to be back in the hardware game. What’s next? A re-release for the Dreamcast (which would be a truly super idea btw)?

Apart from maybe my memories of the Amiga days (which for me was the pinnacle of all things gaming), I can’t remember such a vibrant industry. Yes, I know that the number of AAA games really is quite small now, but those that are released, on the whole are generally very, very good. Few stinkers make it to release nowadays, due to the costs involved to produce these games. They are weaned out early on. However, the number of high quality indie games, which are really rich experiences, is phenomenal.

Just see how the Nintendo Switch has very effectively punctuated its AAA launch schedule with game after game on the system. Many also available on the Xbox One or PS4, but often the Switch is the better platform to enjoy them.

Just last week I went to the Power Up exhibition at the Science Museum. I actually went twice; once to an adult only session in the evening, the morning after to a session with my son. Both sessions were full. The range of people in terms of age, sex, height, bearded and non-bearded (and that was just the women!)…. you get the idea. Gaming is now for everyone. Indeed, it has been for a long time. But now, more than ever, there is such a wide, accessible range of content on gaming systems for everyone to enjoy.

In addition, I think it’s fair to say that with gaming becoming so pervasive we are seeing a general improvement in gamers’ ability to play and understand the language of games. Some of this might have been helped by the huge growth in casual, mobile gaming. However, in the last few years (and this is purely anecdotal), I feel young and old have come back to ‘proper’ gaming machines. Whether that be a console, a 3/2DS handheld, or a PC. The tablet might be there in the house too, as a ‘distraction device’; but I do not think these experiences go much beyond ‘distraction’.

All the platforms have become rich ecosystems able to offer something to everyone. Games in recent years have also allowed greater customisation of a player’s avatar, or offering a wider selection of pre-set characters, which I think has made games represent and connect culturally with a wider range of gamers. Having said that, the industry has hardly arrived at the pinnacle it could potentially reach for how it chooses to portray women and those of a non-white, non-European background within its output. Still, it is getting there, and this is making people connect with its output more and more.

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, and at the Power Up event I saw more than a few dads and mums really chuffed with themselves for remembering how to play (and in some cases win) games such as Mario Kart, various fighting games, and whatnot. This nostalgia is driving them to pro-actively introduce games to their kids, and play along with them. This isn’t new, but I don’t think it’s been such a universal experience. I’m coming up to 40 years old, and I can say that out of my friends and peer group there are maybe just one or two friends who are into games today and actively play them with their kids. I think that the new generation of parents are quite different.

Nintendo know this, which is why they produced their mini SNES and NES. They’ve now started releasing retro games on their Switch, and I think the new ‘virtual console’ experience (when it finally launches properly) will be more successful than previous incarnations on the Wii and Wii U, which were really for the ‘hardcore’. This time I think they will be hugely universal experiences. This nostalgia fetish is catching on, as my son is now fascinated with the older consoles. At Power Up, he was most excited about getting the chance to play a Galaga Clone and Donkey Kong Junior. Maybe this truly started being recognised in the mainstream when films such as Wreck It Ralph and the awful Pixels (awful, but my son loves it!), were back in production? If studying this, that might be the time to pinpoint gaming truly becoming mainstream once more.

In a world going through many political and cultural changes, what has been before and that which reminds us of a ‘safer, more stable time’ becomes reassuring to people. Perhaps games were too new to offer this function until recently. However, now they can offer that same emotional time travel that music, film, and books have been able to offer in the past.This Christmas (or Chanukah!), look back at where we have come from, and look ahead at where we are going. Only a few years ago, people were commenting that perhaps traditional gaming would be marginalised by the smartphones and tablets. I think that fear was misplaced and between them, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have some amazing platforms and ecosystems truly offering what people want. With PC and the retro scene alongside them, gaming is only going to grow and flourish. As the community which enjoys and seeks out the experiences these systems have to offer grows up, and grows in numbers, the business of playing, watching, and talking about games will become a central plank of culture; no longer a sub-culture.

Isn’t it great being a gamer today? Let’s insert a coin and keep playing!

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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