GamesBeat

While I Was Away…

Editor’s note: Wow — this is such a great post! We see through Roberto’s eyes what it was like to leave gaming for a few years and what he’s come back to. Although he paints a rosy picture of what the console wars was like back in the old days (we got the hate mail at EGM — we know how ugly it got), this is still a fascinating feel-good-then-feel-slightly-bad read. -Shoe


It was the summer of the year that kicked off the new millennium. I was 16 and about to start something I always dreamed of since I bought Green Day’s “Dookie” back when I was 11: a rock band. At the same time, I was about to unconsciously and gradually lose touch with what was, until that age, my favorite hobby: gaming.

It wasn’t a good time to stop playing video games. Sega had just launched a console called the Dreamcast a year before, and in the time to come, it would become a legendary system that pushed gaming straight into a new era. (The thing actually let you play online with people around the world, like the PC kids did!)

But being in a band meant summer days spent in rehearsal space trying to kick out the best jams you could and summer nights at any house party where a host would let you play. This eventually lead to my (almost complete) disconnection from the gaming world — and to an amazing amount of dust gathered on/in my Sony PlayStation.

 

I never really lost all contact with gaming culture, though. Throughout the rest of high school and the entirety of college (where I still played in bands and later picked up photography), some of my friends that weren’t into gaming picked up the hobby, and the ones that already were in it kept on investing in new consoles and software.

So every now and then I would try to play a little at my friends’ places — some GameCube at Oscar’s, some PS2 at Isra’s, or some Xbox at Mike’s. Nevertheless, it wasn’t like back in junior high and the early high school days when I would devour those imported issues of EGM (I live in Mexico) from cover to cover and spend countless hours on games like Final Fantasy Tactics.

Time passed and in the summer of 2007 I started working at the same university I had studied in along with two friends I made who just happened to be the most hardcore gamers I’ve ever met (in person anyway). The constant lunch conversations about video games — especially the ones about the art scenes that sprung from gaming culture — little by little started to bring back the gamer that had been asleep in me for almost a decade.

Evolution of Controllers

I gradually started reading about the gaming world again. And in early 2008, I finally succumbed to tempation and bought an Xbox 360 just so I could own a copy of EA’s Skate. (You must understand that I have an incredible appreciation for the sport of skateboarding and just hated how the Tony Hawk games completely oversimplified it — and for that reason Skate was the skateboarding title I always hoped would be made.)

Boy was I in for a surprise. I always heard my friends talking about signing into Xbox Live and starting matches, buying Arcade games, sending messages, establishing online conversations while playing, and so on, but I had never experienced any of that firsthand. When I hooked up my 360 to the Internet and turned it on, I felt like Morgan Freeman’s character in The Shawshank Redemption, walking into the outside world for the first time in years and being overwhelmed by how much everything had changed.

My Xbox started downloading a software update upon starting it up — a software update! In a gaming console! I created my Gamertag, I fooled around with the interface and saw the endless things you could do online, and, finally, I played Skate and was just blown away by just how good a game could look and play. Later that same year I bought my Live Gold Account, and I had my first online co-op gaming experience. It was amazing to play Castle Crashers and talk with my friends at the same time. (The Dreamcast was right! This works!)

But not everything had changed for the better. As I started reading more about video games again, one particular subject came to my attention once more: the console wars. I remember how back in the Super Nintendo and Genesis days, it was mostly bragging about who had the better graphics and sound, but still, SNES owners totally dug Sonic the Hedgehog and Gunstar Heroes, and Genesis owners totally dug Super Mario World and Super Metroid.

Gunstar Heroes

In the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 days, it was about who had the wider variety — if you were into JRPGs, fighters, and mature-themed games, the PS1 was the way to go, I guess. But still, one of my best friends and I would switch consoles, so I could play Star Fox 64 and he could play that totally rad game where you stole cars and took jobs from mobsters by answering public phones. It was all good.

These days, however, I read about PS3 owners creating petitions to abort the launch of previously PS-exclusive titles on the Xbox. I see the term “casual gamer” thrown around in insulting ways. I see the birth of some sort of “gaming racism” when someone calls someone else an “Xbot” on the message boards. I see the nonsense of comparing review scores of totally unrelated games. I see some guy from G4 get pissed off at insane bloggers and (rightfully) calling them “delusional f***s.” I see the start of a horrible thing I can only describe as “gaming hooliganism.”

It’s no longer a “console war” (well yeah, there is, but that’s industry-level stuff); these days we have a completely separate “gamer war” — and not in the cool online deathmatch way. It’s insane.

And so, I find myself thinking that even though the video game industry and video games themselves have evolved so much and in so many wonderful ways in those nine years I wasn’t involved, strangely enough, video gamers have devolved and turned into rival tribes of some sort (not all of them, of course — I think the Bitmob community is one of the most knowledgeable and understanding group of gamers I’ve had the pleasure to interact with).

So much has changed while I was away, but I’m excited to catch up and see what the future holds for this wildly interesting and ever-changing cultural scene we call gaming.


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