Throughout the decades, gaming has matured into a cultural touchstone, extending its relevance from an entertaining pastime to a universe of its own making. Sure, many people are skeptical about engaging in the activity, mainly due to the irrational fear that they corrupt the mind and turn players into unproductive couch potatoes. However, it is becoming more and more reductive to dismiss the booming cultural significance of the gaming industry, just like it would be irrational to bar access to TV watching in the sixties. Today, many socio-economic and technological forces are banding together to push the mainstream gambling culture into a global phenomenon.
However, gamers were not always considered as a common part of mainstream culture and were often called geeks. The very first games were mostly crude and not at all like the cool and trendy entertainment available today. For decades, they were regarded as unpalatable for a mainstream audience. Let’s break down how gaming progressed from a geek affair into the robust media segment it is today.
In the ’50s and ’60s, computer technology was still a luxury far from accessible to the average person. The machines popped up during World War II under the Allied forces to aid their fight against the Axis. Once the war wrapped up, big companies like Remington Rand and IBM reprogrammed them into advanced card-based systems. Top universities also took the chance to adopt and experiment with the technology, laying the foundation for video games. In 1950, the chess computer program Turochamp was created for the devices, but it did not run entirely on automated programs, and its full implementation never went through.
Bertie the Brain, designed at Rogers Majestic, was the first fully electronic computer game that was just another version of Turochamp. Nimrod popped up the following year in 1951 at the Festival of Britain as the second computer game. While these sets run entirely on electric systems, they did not include a monitor display. This limitation was fixed by the tic-tac-toe program in 1952. The created game was dubbed OXO and played like checkers. Up to this point, video games were nothing more than a technological oddity created for a science fair.
While OXO is counted as the first video game, it was created to demonstrate the power of computers rather than for entertainment. The first video game to display this kind of functionality was Tennis for Two, designed by William Higinbotham. The game became such a popular sensation in the tech community that it was displayed on an analog computer at the 1958’s Brookhaven’s annual series. However, the tech was still not advanced enough to support gaming, making the game an impractical venture. Bach processing machines were the computers of the time, operating with minimal memory and speed. The only practical use for them was studies and company initiatives. Tennis for Two was dismantled a year later, and the program was reverted to academic investments only.
Until 1958, computers were expensive and bulky gadgets, limiting them to only a few institutions. A group of MIT students changed this by creating a computer that could process commands in real-time using a more reliable RAM. The invention allowed users to fool around with interactive programming, and university students were granted access to it to further their studies. In the process, the first publicly available video game, Spacewar, was created in 1962 by Steve Russell and several other students at the university.
Spacewar was based on the stories of E. E. Smith, where two spaceships had to battle it out for supremacy. Two players used a control box to man each of the ships, and the last one staying was the winner. The game’s popularity surpassed the university and became a sensation on the east coast, where it was introduced by a leading member of its creative team. However, it was still reserved for the tight-knit community of nerds.
The ’70s saw numerous advancements in computer production, making them significantly cheaper than they were before. However, the standard price tag of around $10,000 attached to minicomputers was still too high for the average household to afford. However, they gave rise to the coin-operated industry, and arcade centers started popping up. Video games quickly became the center of attention with elaborate visuals and sounds miles ahead of the dotted black and white images that dominated previous games. Popular games that gained massive popularity at the time include;
- Canyon Bomber;
- Space Invaders;
- Gun Fight;
- Space Race.
The gambling industry was also taking significant steps forward with the first real video slot in 1976, courtesy of Fortune Coin. The Sin City-based company created the pokie using a 19″ Sony television screen, and it was exclusively displayed at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. Even after its release, the game underwent several modifications to make it cheat-proof before being approved by the Nevada State Gaming Commission. IGT later acquired fortune Coin, and the penny slots were mass-produced for other land-based casinos. Like arcade games, video pokies operated by slipping coins into a slot, which would activate gameplay. However, the penny slot machines were not skill-based and depended entirely on luck.
The video game industry came crashing down in 1983 due to the oversaturation of low-quality ball and paddle games. There were numerous attempts to revive the era, one being the introduction of cocktail table cabinets in restaurants for wealthy gamers. However, nothing could slow down the fall, and several American video game companies went bankrupt. However, some companies like Nintendo, Atari, and Midway created a new gaming environment that formed the foundation for the industry as it is today.
Nintendo went back to the drawing board, redesigning the Famicom console as Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The gadget was marketed as a children’s toy instead of a videogame console. Also, the company put strict content and quality restrictions in place, meaning that games for the console could only be legally published through Nintendo. Nintendo went on to sell almost 62 million copies of the device worldwide. The success kickstarted franchises like:
- the Legend of Zelda;
- Super Mario Bros;
- Final Fantasy;
- Donkey Kong;
- Kirby’s Adventure.
During this time, computers had also become significantly cheaper and started to pop up in more households, leading to the rise of sets like Star Trek, Frogger, and Pac-Man.
The mid-1990s were a significant defining moment for technological evolution with the entry of the internet. The web opened the doors for game developers to explore an entirely new realm of hyper-realistic visuals and multiplayer games that continue to dominate the market today. With online gaming, players no longer have to visit arcades or purchase physical consoles and DVD copies to enjoy their favorite titles. Like with the Wolf Run free slots offered in online casinos, all video game purchases can be made online for use on console and PC gadgets. Franchises that have become popular in this era include:
|Call of Duty||World War II, Modern Warfare, World of War, Black Ops, Ghosts, Advanced Warfare, Infinite Warfare|
|Grand Theft Auto||Vice City, San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto V, Liberty City, The Lost and the Damned, Chinatown Wars|
|Assassin’s Creed||Brotherhood, Revelations, Black Flag, Rogue, Unity, Odyssey, Valhalla, Bloodlines|
|Resident Evil||Village, Biohazard, Dead Aim, Resistance, Operation Racoon City, Deadly Silence, The Umbrella Chronicles|
In the past, whenever gaming was about to make its break as a mainstream entertainment form, it was often vilified and misunderstood by the previous generations. For instance, when Dungeons and Dragons was first published in 1974, it triggered accusations of promoting witchcraft and satanism from concerned religious groups. For decades, thousands of self-proclaimed nerds and geeks had to play in tight-knit groups, maintaining secretive gameplay out of fear of being judged.
The same case applies to video games. Since their big break, the niche has matured with the millennial generation. However, unlike toy trains and barbie dolls that fail to fit into adult hobbies, video games do. In the beginning, the media was quick to dismiss the booming gaming industry as a side effect of “extended adolescence” or “arrest development”. However, once the technological and socio-economic forces proved the significance of gaming culture as a pastime and legitimate career choice, the tune quickly changed. At this point, gaming became a widely accepted activity. As new generations like Gen Z continue to form an intrinsic relationship with the pastime, its relevance and acceptance will extend far into the future.
Gaming has also transformed into a media economy through deeper entrenchment into mainstream audiences by adopting sectors that predate its success. For instance, popular titles have been turned into these film franchises:
- Lara Croft: Tomb Raider;
- Resident Evil;
- Need for Speed;
- Mortal Kombat;
- Super Mario Bros;
- Sonic the Hedgehog;
- Street Fighter;
- Far Cry;
Aside from long-term engagement with the television medium, video games invest in original soundtracks with high playability. Players can download the music and enjoy it outside the games.
Live streaming is considered the best thing to ever happen to video games and has been key to turning what was once a solitary leisure activity into a billion-dollar empire. The Amazon-owned live streaming service Twitch is currently the most popular globally, with over one million viewers watching others’ play at any given time. No other conventional sport, even football, rakes in such a high around-the-clock viewership figure. On YouTube, gamers rank high among the most followed individual accounts, with Swedish gamer PewDiePie leading the lot with a whopping 110 million subscribers.
By sharing their experience playing online, gamers have completely shed the geek stigma that was often attached to the activity in the past. Those that have adopted it as a career have become promoters and content producers for video games. With platforms like Twitch and YouTube amassing popularity, the consumption of video games is becoming the creation of content and is treated as consumable entertainment by the gaming community. This is a strange case of the snake eating its own tail and somehow getting bigger in the process.
Thanks to massive exposure in recent years, Esports is quickly becoming one of the most financially lucrative markets. With celebrities and big brands forming partnerships and making investments in the field, the excitement of gameplay is extending beyond household walls to arenas and stadiums filled with thousands of fans. The billion-dollar industry seamlessly blends gaming with media, commerce, and pop culture, completely shedding the trope that the activity is limited to teenage boys. So far, companies like Nike, Disney, Facebook, PayPal, and Mastercard have formed partnerships with major players in the esports industry, driving up its value.
The Next Step
The next predicted step for the gaming industry is the mainstream adoption of virtual reality. While this technology has been around for a while, it has yet to be pushed in the right direction to kickstart a domino effect. However, with the widespread acceptance of video games, VR gadgets are becoming popular for players to engage in their favorite sets. Console and game developers are also quickly adopting tech that supports the platform.