Video gaming first became popular in the late 1970s/early 80s with the introduction of the world’s first affordable home video gaming systems, such as the Commodore 64 or the ZX Spectrum. Before the release of these. console computer gaming was limited to bulky arcade games or even larger mainframe computers that were mainly used in offices and universities. The introduction of the home games console brought video gaming to the masses.
The first game to appeal to a mass audience however was the arcade shooter that became synonymous with computer games, Space Invaders. This simple but highly addictive arcade game became a world wide phenomenon with a cultural impact that is still being felt today. It helped launch video gaming into the public consciousness.
As the sales of games and consoles began to increase the demand for newer more innovative titles increased significantly, with the mid 1980s becoming a period of massive expansion and creative development for the newly developing industry.
…the biggest selling video gaming console of all time…
In 1983, Nintendo released their first gaming console the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES as it became known. It became one of the biggest selling video gaming console of all time and a pop icon to boot. To date it has sold over 60 million units and was only officially discontinued in 2003.
With the industry a legitimate source of entertainment the wider audience began to demand even greater depth in their games and so a gradual shift began in the way games were constructed and marketed.
…eliciting an emotional connection from the player to the game would ensure loyalty for future releases.
The main focus was still action and adventure but software creators began to spend more and more time developing plotlines and characters for games, realising that eliciting an emotional connection from the player to the game would ensure loyalty for future releases. Titles like The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy were among the first to use a developing plotline to maintain player interest and set a precedent that is still followed today.
The mid 1990s saw the second wave of public interest in gaming with the release of Sony’s Playstation, Saga Saturn and the Nintendo 64. These ushered in what could be regarded as the second golden age of gaming with the production of critically and publicly acclaimed titles like GoldenEye 007, Resident Evil, and Metal Gear Solid.
…the fact our hero was in fact a heroine made the games cultural impact even more substantial…
One character above all the other video game heroes came to represent the gaming industry as a whole and change yet again how people regarded the genre, and the fact our hero was in fact a heroine made the games cultural impact even more substantial.
Tomb Raider hit the shelves in 1996 and was immediately praised by critics and gamers for its fresh take on the action adventure genre. The central character of Lara Croft was seen as revolutionary and backward thinking in equal measure. Revolutionary because of the break from the tradition of using a muscle bound monosyllabic male hero. Some believed that using a female protagonist was simply a justification of the objectification of women. Whatever the criticism over this issue the game was almost universally praised for its plot driven style of gaming; its innovative use of in-game movies to further the story and an intelligent, witty script.
…a moving and engaging storyline far more nuanced than the average damsel in distress yarn…
Alongside newcomers like Tomb Raider, stalwarts from the 1980s like Final Fantasy, were continuing a strong legacy with increasingly popular sequels, and in 1998 Nintendo released what is seen as the most highly acclaimed game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Aside from the graphical detail the game was praised for its depth of story and character development with a moving and engaging storyline far more nuanced than the average damsel in distress yarn.
Survival Horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil took cues from films, books and TV to create a cinematic environment for their characters to explore. Silent Hill especially was noted for its storyline that demanded the player pay attention in order to understand the complex and sometimes warped story. This game was also highlighted for crafting believable characters within a literary savvy world, with multiple references to the works of Stephen King, John Wyndham and horror films like Jacob’s Ladder.
…taking four years to develop and cost an alleged $100 million to produce.
Today, computer game production is a multi-billion dollar industry with some games costing more than major Hollywood film releases. The Grand Theft Auto series is a prime example with its fourth instalment, GTA 4, taking four years to develop and cost an alleged $100 million to produce. The level of detail in these games is second to none with teams of writers spending months developing storylines and characters.
…the most engaging and complete story is found in developer 2K Boston’s Bioshock…
Despite the huge development costs and obvious care and attention given to GTA 4, the game that many believe to have the most engaging and complete story is found in developer 2K Boston’s Bioshock. Costing around $15 million to develop, Bioshock takes place in an underwater utopia gone wrong. Bringing together notions based on Russian philosopher Ayn Rand’s ideas of Objectivism adding some of George Orwell’s 1984 totalitarianism and a twist that M Night Shyamalan would be proud of, and Bioshock has a story that is so multilayered that it stands up to multiple replays.
With the development of controller free gaming like Xbox Kinect and the Nintendo Wii, story driven game play where players interact with games as they do with real life can only be a few levels away.
Images courtesy of Tomb Raider, Nintendo, Bioshock, Resident Evil, Space Invaders