The only constant is change, but not all change is progress.
I didn’t have a good time at school, and I know I’m not alone there.
There were two things in particular that got me through the day: Gaming, and ice-cream. Gaming, I could do anytime. Ice-cream, sadly for young Liam, was more of a rare treat.
One of those things is still reliable. The other isn’t.
But just before we get into it, I want to make it clear that the angle I’m going for here is ‘Man, I wish you younger gamers could have experienced gaming in this manner, you guys would have really enjoyed certain aspects of it’.
I mention that because it might be easy to confuse this article for a rant. It’s not. Or if it is, then that’s accidental.
Ice-cream and Consoles: Fresh Beginnings
After getting bullied by students and teachers during the school day, gaming was my outlet.
It was the way I managed my temper. It wasn’t my life, but it was a major part of it. It was my hobby, it was my downtime, and it was my therapy.
Music served this purpose for a while, but growing up under capitalism I soon lost sight of the art of music. Music is one of those skills (like woodworking or being a good cook) that, if you have it, you’re expected to make money off of it. If you’re not careful (and I wasn’t) then you can lead yourself astray with the wrong attitude.
Gaming, however, had no such strings attached – remember, I’m talking about the ‘90s here – the internet was JUST starting to become a thing, and Twitch was about 20 years away. This meant that there were only three ways to make money from gaming: Writing videogames, Beta-testing videogames, or writing about videogames.
I could go into detail about why none of those were realistic jobs for a young lad in a Tasmanian working-class family, but the short version goes along the lines of: It could take up to 6 months for international mail to arrive. That’s how different the world was back then.
So, obviously, the internet wasn’t part of gaming.
Sure, you could look up a walkthrough about that game you were having trouble with *cough*FinalFantasyVII*cough* but that was about it – you didn’t need to be online to play a single-player game.
So, back to young Liam, back home from a hard day at school. He could have a bowl of ice-cream or he could play a game on his Amiga 500, such as the actual first open world game ever, Hunter. Fantastic stuff!
Shove the disk in, shove some ice-cream in his gob while he’s waiting for the game to load, and he’s in heaven.
Ice-cream and Consoles: A Match Made In Heaven
Sadly, I never owned a SNES or any of the popular consoles growing up. Back then though, you could rent them from your local video store along with the games. I did this quite often.
I found them confusing at first, and I should probably explain why. See, in the world I grew up in, PCs weren’t for gaming. I’m going to say that again because I can’t stress enough the importance of that one fact and how different it made the gaming landscape: PCs weren’t for gaming.
Some home computers, such as the aforementioned Amiga 500, were designed for gaming, but PCs were for offices. PCs woudn’t become popular gaming machines until graphic cards came along some time around the turn of the millenium.
Until consoles came along, most gaming computers only had one button on their joystick. Imagine a standard controller but it only has one stick (which can only move in 8 directions) and one button. The most popular joystick was, by far, the Atari joystick – because it worked with multiple systems (such as the Amiga):
That’s why I found consoles so hard to get my head around – I’d gone from a one-button joystick to a 6-button D-pad, and it blew my tiny little mind.
I mention all of this because it’s a great example of one of the more positive impacts that consoles have had on modern gaming.
Another advantage – and the main one that consoles had over the Amiga 500 and other gaming computers – was the almost-instant load times. The Amiga 500 had some great games, but the load times could be atrocious.
I’d often come home from school, start loading a game, have a shower, try to pick on my brother, regret trying to pick on my brother because he had a very good understanding of psychological warfare from a very young age, maybe grab a bowl of ice-cream if we had any, and then check on the game only to see it was about 2/5 of the way through.
Contrast and compare with consoles of the time: You’d need to eat your ice-cream before you turned the console on because there was basically no loading time at all.
But what if there could be a middle ground? A modern (at the time) system that could load games fairly quickly, with modern (at the time) graphics and a multi-button controller?
Bearing that in mind, let’s talk about Playstations.
Ice-cream vs Gaming: The Playstation Dillema
Although I never owned any of the earlier consoles, I owned the first three Playstation models. I got a Playstation about the same time I first became a father.
I loved the original Playstation. I’ve never been the type of gamer who cares about graphics, so the Playstation was fantastic for me. The load times were a bit rough, but they were still a great improvement over Amiga 500 load times.
And after a hard day at work, I’d come home and play some Playstation games. Come home, plug in the Playstation, and game away.
I didn’t have to wait long and I’d be helping AVALANCHE in Midgar, or helping Chris and Jill survive a zombie-infested city, or even helping Parappa the Rapper learn how to do karate (PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH!).
Eventually, the Playstation 2 came out. This was around the time that PCs were gaining steam (that’s a joke for all the Valve fans out there). I prefer the mouse-and-keyboard control method, so I naturally navigated toward PCs at this time.
However, PC gaming can be amazingly annoying, and the same was true back then.
Consoles were the best way to simply play a videogame.
You didn’t have to install games. You didn’t need to worry about hard drive space. You didn’t need some stupid third-party account to play the games you’d bought. It didn’t matter if your internet connection was spotty, you could still play the game you’d paid money to play. You could just come home from work, put the disc in, and play the game.
You could simply, as you always had been able to, simply put the game in the drive of the console, sit back for about 2 minutes (maybe while eating ice-cream), and then play your game.
And then the Playstation 3 came along, and ruined consoles for me forever.
Now all of a sudden, consoles had all of the same flaws that PCs did (worrying about hard drive space etc), with none of the advantages (such as mods).
I remember the exact day I stopped caring about consoles. My second child and I were excited to play Lego Star Wars Complete Edition, so I put the disc and the PS3 gives me some bullshit about needing to update.
Why the fuck do you – A CONSOLE – need to update? And why can’t I skip the update process, like I can on PC? Let me guess, it’s because of internet-related bullshit, right?
And that’s why I don’t own a Playstation 4.
If I want to eat a bowl of ice-cream, I just buy some ice-cream, put it in a bowl, and fucking eat it.
If I want to play a console game now, I need to jump through a whole bunch of hoops to play a game that *might work* and is never guaranteed to not have gamebreaking bugs.
Imagine if ice-cream had followed the same line of ‘progress’: Having bought your ice-cream, you’d now have to remember your password for your fridge – which can now be hacked because your password is kept by the ice-cream provider.
Imagine coming home from work/school/whatever, and not being able to eat ice-cream because your fridge needs to update.
Then, when you finally get access to your ice-cream, there’s no guarantee it won’t contain bugs, bugs that will make it impossible to continue eating that ice-cream. Even if you manage to pick all the bugs out, you’d be like ‘I’m not eating this ice-cream’, wouldn’t you?
But if we find bugs in a console game, we’re just like ‘I can just use a workaround’.
So what’s the workaround for knowing that console gaming used to be convenient, and that modern consoles are simply unable to provide that same convenience thereby being simpler and clearly inferior versions of PC gaming?
Asking for a friend.