Generation is a tricky term that we usually use to discriminate against all the people born in a particular time period. Usually, they have some kind of rough definition, like the Baby Boomers who were the result of post-war celebration boning; Gen X, who eventually got sick of their parents crap and Gen Y; the media’s scapegoat for everything wrong in the world today. When it comes to gaming, however, our definitive boundaries are obtuse to the point of shallow.
From basic research (ie Googling generations of gaming/gaming generations), I’ve discerned that the term ‘generation’ is nearly always stuck beside the word ‘console’, as if that’s the only thing that truly matters in the gaming world. As a recent adopter of PC gaming, the automatic lumping of ‘console’ and ‘generation’ seems to completely disregard every other aspect of gaming as we know it. Why on earth are we caring now about the release of more Sony and Microsoft products when a decent PC could probably do their jobs now? Are their services going to be that much better than what’s already readily available on my desktop?
If you’re reading anything on Dusty Cartridge, hell, if you’ve read this far into the article, there’s a part of you that takes gaming seriously. A part of you that thinks that there’s something more to it than the bare basic ‘I presses the buttons and I likes it.’ The most appropriate term I think we could use to describe that interest is respect. The feeling that gaming is something that actively impacts your life and how you view the world around you. Before the other parts of you start screaming ‘it’s only games I have to be a real adult someday!’ think of all the stupid, inane things happening at this point in history. As far as things go, gaming isn’t a terrible thing to judge some parts of your worldview by.
If games do affect your life, then the idea of a gaming generation becomes infinitely more complex, becoming less about what is new and more about reactions to the old.
As a relatively ‘young’ gamer (my first console having been a PlayStation) there’s not really much I can say about the time between then and when I bought my PlayStation 3. I was young, and while I loved gaming, I was completely unaware of just how enormous the culture was behind it. At the stage where a Wii, PS3 and 360 sat side-by-side on my cabinet, I was immersed in the industry. And by all accounts, it wasn’t either Sony or Microsoft’s consoles that were proving that hardware had a great deal to do with the advancement and reaction of gaming generations. Rather, it was Nintendo’s little dust gatherer that was the marker of how times were rapidly changing.
The Rise of the Casual Gamer
The Wii wasn’t a step back for gaming when it released, yet it wasn’t a step forward either. Without the sheer power of its rivals, the Wii offered something new to a yet-to-be exploited audience. It offered the waggle to people who thought that games were for suicidal teens. It offered kids the chance to play outside sports while never leaving their perfectly air-conditioned rooms. It had the Mario’s and the Zelda’s and all the Nintendo faces that the fans love, while spreading this love in turn to an entirely new fan base. And the kicker? It’s almost perfect price upon entry into the market.
It’s this mix of both affordability and easy entry-level that defines the current generation of gaming. Case in point: the success of every Gears of War, Halo and Call of Duty. Their secret (without taking away from the fact they’re all incredibly well designed games) is that they provide almost instant accessibility and a sense of competition that we instinctively crave. Without getting too far into the mire that is ‘define a casual gamer,’ I’d say that someone who plays games like these for their easy to understand mechanics and the sheer thrill of competition are casual gamers. I don’t mean to insult or to denigrate that section of the community; think of it like this: if a guy buys a meat lovers pizza at every restaurant you go to, you don’t call him a pizza connoisseur. You call him a guy that loves meat lovers pizza. Also, you should call him a doctor because he’ll definitely have diabetes.
Challenger, are you ready!?
A new generation is supposed to react to the generation before it, and the casual market very much did, challenging the idea that gaming was a niche hobby. This is a fleeting example however, as we have to think about what else has happened in the industry over the last decade. Steam’s debut in 2003 has since completely changed how we think about purchasing digital content and how much we expect to pay for games. Apps have made strict gaming only handheld devices seem incredibly limited in comparison (especially my wonderful PS Vita).
Now, the Wii U is set to launch, and I’m left wondering whether or not this actually marks the start of a new generation. What is it doing to challenge what we already knew? Where and what in gaming should actually be challenged to bring on a true version of next-gen? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and then disagree with you.
So the Wii U – next gen or not? Let us know in the comments below!