If you have ever had the fortune of finding your parent’s childhood video game console, you can appreciate how spoiled we are. Games like pong and space invaders are laughed at by children today for their all around simplicity but in the early days of home consoles, that was it. Graphics? Yeah right. Special Controllers? A single joy-stick was as special as they came. As for sound effects, you’d be lucky to get a beep; forget about explosions, gunfire and actual words. It’s no secret that video games have advanced far beyond most entertainment sources but what do all these features and gadgets mean to society? Before we dive into the exploration of modern day consoles, here’s a little background information.
In 1972 Magnavox released the Odyssey, the first ever video game console. Despite its originality, the product achieved only moderate success due to a vacant industry and an uninformed market. The product popularity never took off and was eventually abandoned in 1975 for a much more popular and advanced alternative, pong. This simple back-and-forth game, pioneered by Atari, was essentially the game that started it all. These ‘first generation’ consoles could only play 3 games at most, all of which included a couple lines and a moving square, but were selling out across the continent and flooding the market.
Despite industry crashes in 1977 and 1983, the home console remained persistent and bounced back with products such as Atari’s Space Invaders and Nintendo’s NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) which boasted the original Super Mario Bros. The fifth generation of video game consoles introduced the ever-popular Sony Playstation and Nintendo N64 which were followed by the sixth generation PS2 and Xbox.
Today’s video game consoles have gone well beyond the stereotypical mindless button mashing. In the past five years our society has seen a substantial shift in the world of gaming with the introduction of motion sensitive consoles, more specifically the Nintendo Wii and the Xbox Kinect.
The first motion sensitive console, The Wii, was released in 2006 and competed with Sony’s Playstation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox, outselling both. The Wii Remote, a wireless controller used as a pointing device and movement detector in three dimensions, was the consoles preeminent feature and impressed many consumers. Built in accelerometers and infrared detectors sense the controller’s position when pointed at the sensor bar, which then responds by appropriately displaying the action on screen. Bluetooth then sends the signals back-and-forth between the console and controller. The Wii Remote also wields an internal rumble pack and speaker while still carrying the capability of traditional button pressing.
Strengths are not difficult to find in this console. It is unique, the pioneer of motion sensing controls if you will. It has a noticeably lower price than the rest of the seventh generation consoles, retailing at around $200. It is also compatible with preceding Nintendo games from the GameCube and offers button orientated games so user can take a break from the physical demand.
However, The Wii still has its fair share of downsides. The console’s graphics hail in comparison to seventh (and even sixth) generation competition. With the focus on motion sensory, Nintendo downgraded the graphic card and cut the HD feature, which can be found on both PS3 and Xbox. The online experience is a shell of what other companies offer. It can only be found on certain games and offers limited game play styles. Despite being the original creators, Nintendo does not own the motion sensing software, thus leaving the door wide open for competitors.
In the latter stages of 2010, Microsoft released a motion sensing input device for the Xbox 360 called Kinect. This add-on allows hands- free interaction by using an infrared projector, camera and special microchip to track movement in 3D. That’s right, you do NOT need a controller, in fact, you are the controller. You can navigate through the Xbox menu using voice controls or hand gestures and the console uses voice and facial recognition to identify users. The console sold around 10 million units in roughly 5 months, 8 million going in the first 60 days, helping it claim the world record for ‘fastest selling electronics device’.
While the technology behind it is out of this world, Kinect demands a lot of space to play (7-9 feet x 5-7 feet). It also lacks depth in game selection boasting only 110 titles (Wii has surpassed 1600), most of which are similar dance or exercise games.
Now that you have some background on the individual consoles, forget about all the branding and the marketable features. Look at the overall concept, motion sensitive entertainment. The new technologies have both enabled and disabled society while changing the industry forever.
After checking out the selection of motion demanding games at my local EB games store, I came to the realization that these games/consoles have introduced society to a new physical development technique. Games like ‘Wii fit’ or ‘My Self Defense Coach’ have enabled us to develop physical skills from our living room. People no longer need to go to the gym to work out, they can interact with their television and receive feedback, statistics and advice. The console replaces a personal trainer and the game becomes your workout plan. Video games were commonly criticized for discouraging physical activity and producing lazy habits, but now they can be used to stay in shape and develop cognitive-physical relationships, all in the comfort of your own home. Quirky sound effects and characters make the process fun, while upbeat music and constant encouragement motivate users to work harder. Features like these also provide entertainment so the user forgets how miserable working out actual is.
In my opinion, the fiscal success of these consoles comes from our generation’s commitment to social trends. Today’s media is constantly emphasizing the importance of a healthy/active lifestyle and battering us with resources. With this in mind it’s no wonder why the abstract idea of using a video game to keep healthy has appealed to the masses. People are starting to frown upon lazy habits, which are stereotypically linked with video games and TV. In return the console companies have shifted their focus to a more interactive product that has the ability to get someone off the couch. It’s the best of both worlds; people satisfy the dire need for the newest technology and avoid the risk of living a ‘socially unacceptable life style’.
On the other hand, one may argue we’re losing sight of what video games were intended to be; a release. How come we always have to be doing something productive? After a long day of school or work I want to come home and have a little mindless fun. I want to get lost in a creative, completely unrealistic storyline and let my mind wonder to a place where my physical health/work is of no concern. Games such as God of War or Call of Duty allow us to focus on a different lifestyle and fantasize about something interesting. Stress from our actual lives is forgotten as we indulge in a worry-free environment. The opportunity to live stress-free, even for a short time, can be just as beneficial to the body and mind as physical activity.
With the release of these new technologies comes a major shift in the industry. Games are no longer made specifically for children or teenagers. Young individuals are no longer the sole target audience of businesses. The new capabilities of these consoles are starting to appeal to a wider demographic, ranging from infants to elders. I spoke with an employee at a console retailer and he told me there are a lot more adults coming, on their own, to purchase consoles and games. A decade ago, parents purchased the console and never went near it again. It was strictly for the children; now they show interest in the new games and features because they have some substance. Rather than keeping a kid busy for a couple hours, they can benefit a busy consumer who doesn’t have time to go to the gym or take his/her kid to the soccer field.
Consoles have come a long way in the past 40 years with new technologies adding countless capabilities and changing the way society looks at video games. It is difficult to say whether the advancements are for better or worse, that assessment depends on the individual. Personally, I always have and always will like the mindless release. I believe the new consoles place an emphasis on technological capabilities and ignore the creativity and actual content of the game. An exciting storyline stimulates my senses more than a new technology, however this attitude varies from person to person.
Society is becoming too reliant on technology. A simple source of entertainment has been shifted into a communication tool, a workout machine and an internet browser. Systems like this should stick to their original purpose and leave unrelated tasks to other gadgets. I recommend that people go for a run outside or drop in on a spin class; this promotes interaction with the physical world rather than a machine. Interpersonal communication has become so awkward and difficult because a majority of people don’t do it. They get comfortable hiding behind their machines and forget how to actually communicate face-to-face. While I may question the usefulness, I cannot deny the incredibility of these technologies. They have made dreams a reality and forever changed the entertainment sector as whole. Whether you use the consoles or not, it’s tough to hide the curiosity of what boundaries these companies can cross in the future.