So. We’re a gaming family. Jason and I were both individually into video and console games before we met, and then we multiplied into little babies that were given XBox controllers as soon as they were able to sit up. I think video games have been given a bum rap, overall. People hear that we let our kids game, and immediately envision glassy-eyed waifs going on a virtual shooting rampage. And that’s sad, and untrue. In the last few years, particularly, gaming has undergone a transformation and become one of the most creative, innovative, and inspiring forms of media in the world.
The evolution of gaming has been profound. Console and PC games used to come in only one flavor back when I was a kid, and that was pixelated. No matter the genre, no matter the character, no matter the platform– you were playing with colored squares. It was point A to point B by way of left to right. Plots? Hardly.
Time passed, technology changed. Early 3D was born and adopted.
Yeah, that’s what we did with 3D. Large breasted women and alien warfare. It was a golden age.
Gradually, we started getting better with graphics and game engines. The visuals, while still probably verging on lame today, were light years ahead of what they had been twelve months before.
And then the century turned, and we just began to dream bigger. It’s hard to illustrate how vastly the landscape of gaming has changed in ten years. I’ll start with ‘The Sims’. Admittedly, this is my very favorite franchise (I’m sure my obsessive expansion pack purchases put a car in some EA worker’s driveway), but it’s also an excellent example of how impressive games have become.
‘The Sims’, 2000:
‘The Sims 2’, 2004:
‘The Sims 3’, 2009:
Three living rooms, same title, over nine years. Concept improvements followed the graphic ones. The original ‘Sims’ allowed you to go to the bathroom, sleep, kiss, Woo Hoo (yes, it’s what you think it is, and no, they didn’t show anything), have a baby, go to work and clean. House building was limited, the neighborhoods were fixed, the simulated people had about five traits– basic ones, too; like Mean or Slob or Funny. The new ‘Sims’ is limited only by your imagination. You can create your own island from nothing. You can build a spired dream home on a cliffs. You can run along the beach and watch the sun rise over the ocean. You can be obsessed with your weight, man-crazy, hate children, gossip constantly, tell unfunny jokes, or be unbearably charming. You can plant a garden, be a detective, stop by the local fire station, visit a haunted graveyard, run into an ex, or make malicious internet posts. You can even go to China and take digital photos for an album.
I think the most amazing thing– which ‘Sims’, to me, ushered in, but which has since been exploding everywhere– is the idea of creative, nonlinear play. It opened the door for something like ‘Little Big Planet‘–
— which allows you to collect items as you move through it, and eventually use those items to build your own playable planets. Kids can explore safely in these bright fantasy lands. They can solve puzzles, help others, and share ideas. The Lego franchise is another excellent example of this. Teamwork is usually encouraged to work through problems, and the game allows them both the fun of destroying blocks and rebuilding them better and stronger.
Then, on the semi-practical end of the spectrum, you have games that train kids in various things: animal care, language, biology, even cooking. My kids love making bizarre entrees with ‘Cooking Mama‘, and I don’t have to have things like squid ink all over my kitchen. Win-win.
Even for adults, current games are incredibly conceptual. They’ve evolved from pixelated to naturalistic, and have surpassed that into a surreality. They’re innovative, and they’re without limits. The worlds now are adventures unto themselves, and the visuals have followed suit. As a fellow creator, I’m absolutely humbled by it. I think any medium that allows you to imagine, construct, deduce, and dream should be encouraged.
And yes; yesterday’s Mario may have saved the princess, but today’s Mario can explore galaxies.
What about you? What was your favorite video game as a child? What’s your favorite now?
(All images and screenshots copyright their respective companies and owners.)
Earthbound for the SuperNES. I used to go and rent that game weeks at a time. It was the first RPG I had ever played and probably started my love for that particular gaming genre. Now if only the Wii would come out with it for virtule download.
I never got to play video games growing up! My mama didn’t like it, so I had maybe 15 minutes of Mortal Kombat snuck in when Mom wasn’t looking, and that was it for probably 15 years!
I do love the visual arts of video games. But me personally? Besides wii games, I’m content with old school mario.
The boyfriend, on the other hand, plays ALL kind of games, and knows all sorts of factoids and tricks and stuff — I’ll never understand what he’s talking about.
I used to LOVE LOVE LOVE Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was one of the first games that also for me began to explore non-linear paths. Even though there were clear objectives (collect jewels to defeat the bad guy), it was also very free gameplay-wise. You could get on your horse and just ride- go off into the hills or mountains or forests. Spend hours honing your archery skills or talking to locals and doing small favors or quests along the way. I loved the details in all the side quests; it was actually pretty revolutionary in that way for it’s time. Kind of like a mini-Warcarft, before it came along.
I miss decathalon on my friends commodore 64…it was the best…my fingers would hurt afterward. I’m afraid to see what video games will be like by the time my kid gets there. I’m hoping it’ll be a return to all retro pac-man.
Wow! What a wonderful perspective. I couldn’t agree more. My kids love gaming and so do I. I was an early adopter (hello Pong, Atari, Comodore 64 and NES) and loved to play but there were definite limits. Now I see my children problem solving, learning, competing, working in a team, sharing and exploring all within the context of a game. I will sit down with them from Webkinz to Club Penguin to Wii for hours helping solve a problem or get to the next level. Great times for all of us.
If this is where we are now, imagine where it is going in the next 5-10 years! I anticipate fully immersive multi-dimensional experiences. Can’t wait to see what’s next!
oh my gosh – what a great post!
So many favourites over the years….
Raid Over Bungling Bay
EA’s NHL 93 and on…
It blows my mind how far the games have come….
you know what’s funny? I still REALLY love to play the old school Super Mario Bros….crappy graphics and all. heh.
Absolutely love the way you weave in stuff from the past and compare to what is there today. The visuals are stunning. Also like the editorial commentary in your posts – you consistently bring up points of view I had not thought about before or just points to ponder. Like the way advertising changed according to the ‘wooing’ needs of the audience, or that gaming has moved to non-linear play. Never know what I will read, but I know it will be interesting and intriguing. Keep up the great work!
I don’t play a lot of games except for Mario Kart on my DSi. I honestly am astounded by the examples you gave. The Sims living rooms? SHARP INTAKE OF BREATH. I studied architecture in school and my God, our graphics were nothing like that. AND I just graduated, too! Everyday, anything I know about technology is becoming outdated.