So my buddy Chad and I started talking this weekend. The conversation sorta lasted two days, and inevitably pulled Dave into the mix (against his will). And what the conversation turned to, after the publication of “(I’m) Not a Gamer IV” wasn’t which games count as art or which games advance the medium as artistic or whatever. It wasn’t even about the relative merits of Call of Duty compared to Team Fortress 2. It was about video game generations. Now, as people mostly ignorant to gaming (as I am), you might not realize that we are currently in the seventh “console generation” of games. This is a generation as defined by home consoles, the seventh generation being the Wii, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360. See, gaming generations have been defined by home consoles for a while, but this is where Chad, Dave and I all disagree. Chad says future generations will still be defined by home consoles and that this generation is just very long. Dave says that the eighth generation began with the release of Move and Kinect. And I say the eighth generation began when games for the iPhone surpassed games for all three home consoles combined.
Let’s start with Chad. Chad takes the traditionalist, majority-gamer viewpoint that, to video games, all that matters are consoles. PC gaming isn’t separated by generation cos PCs are constantly improving on a curve. Handheld gaming hasn’t had generations because it was only in the current generation that more than one handheld was a dominant platform (DS/PSP). Yes, yes, yes, I know that’s not technically true, but I’m simplifying for the sake of clarity. So, the release of the 3DS and PSP2 (cos, let’s face it, NGP is a working title–it’s gonna be the PSP2) won’t be a generation break in his eyes. No, for him, the eighth generation is just going to last a lot longer than the ones before us, and will inevitably have to include the iOS boom in its Wikipedia article.
Dave says that the eighth generation began with the release of Sony and Microsoft’s competitor motion control products. I actually can’t see anything wrong with this theory–I mean, it assumes Nintendo were moving a step ahead with the Wii, which they really were. I mean, millions of dollars belies chessmastery, right? So, let’s get to why they’re wrong and why I’m right. Cos I run this show.
What we really have to do in assessing where the eighth generation of gaming began (or will begin) is look back at all the previous generations. Every generation has marked a sea-change in the way we play games and develop them. From the inevitable graphics race from the first generation through to today, to the introduction of discs and motion controls and 3D graphics, every gaming generation–whether or not it’s a “console generation” has marked a big shift in the way we approach games. But looking closely at video games today, you start to see something scary: that change happened a year ago but no one wants to acknowledge it. The core audience of games seems to be willfully deaf to the sound of the cash registers over at iTunes’ app store, all ringing in cacophany from the amount of cash forked over for independent games.
Hell, the day after I was going to publish this article, the Escapist’s new issue comes out. And it’s about adjusting to the fact that the eighth generation is here, and it’s indie/casual. I mean, they don’t say it in as many words, but it’s pretty clear. There are people playing so much FarmVille that they would rather let their baby die–or in some cases, murder it themselves–than stop playing. I get that you really like CounterStrike, but you are not that into it. I’m not even that into anything, yet I find myself missing bus stops playing Fruit Ninja far more often than I find the same playing Disgaea (though both have happened).
Independent, inexpensive and frankly addictive games are currently making embarrassing amounts of dough for the small development teams and short lead times. Hell, we can even look beyond the app store to see that one of the most critically acclaimed titles of 2010 was an independent title released on the Xbox Live Arcade. And it’s not the only independent release gaining huge traction. The very way we interface with video games is changing, where downloadable content is now seen as a worthy place to debut your creation. It’s like in the late 80’s/early 90’s when independent filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee started coming up with new and inventive ways to make films. Shocking, new and innovative projects that changed the way we think of movies. Steven Soderbergh started putting his films out on video on demand recently–not because he has trouble finding work between Ocean’s 11 sequels, but because he thought that was the appropriate venue for them.
We now see games not as this great, impenetrable community, shut off to us forever and home to the kind of people who post on 4chan. Games are rapidly becoming a part of everyday life again, with bars starting to resemble arcades and our homes starting to resemble arcade bars. It’s no longer uncommon for a household to have a gaming console if the occupants are over eighty. I’ve played Wii Sports with my girlfriend’s grandma and I’ve played House of the Dead: OVERKILL with my best friend. When the casual gaming market exploded, so did the popularity of video games and so did their previously unimagined potential. We can reach a lot more people than we used to be able to, and while that might frighten some of you who need your community to feel safe, it’s a great thing for the medium.
Because, after all of this, when did the eighth generation really start? When it got a person like me, who isn’t a gamer, who isn’t that good at video games and who isn’t particularly interested in becoming that good at video games willing to spend lots and lots of cash on video games. And that was when it went casual.
Thanks a lot for reading this guys. I’m hoping to turn this into a video series soon, so if anyone can draw, that’d be a great help.