There’s that old cliché, isn’t there, about console and PC gamers being bum-fluff sad-sacks holed up in the spare bedroom computer gaming for 99% of the time..? You know the one… and in this article we’re gonna smash it up.
The lazy cliché sets up a negative picture where the only light getting in to that spare room emanates from a screen. There’s just enough to illuminate the player’s spots and reflect in their jam-jar bottom glasses. The carpet is strewn with Pot Noodle cartons or half-eaten pizza boxes (the pizzas, not the boxes – although you never really know). The hill of empty fizzy beverage cans is beginning to look a lot like a challenge even for Rannulph Fiennes… Up on the wall is a painting of a dragon flaming some poor soul or other, and a poster of (we dunno, what decade is it now?) Madonna in her bra.
These gamers – this supposedly strange and supposedly lonely breed of absolute misfit – waste their lives self-imprisoned in that bedroom in ridiculous pursuit of some worthless digital glory or other. But – and here’s the thing – that lazy cliché is so incredibly lazy it’s laughable. It’s total and utter hogwash. It’s not only inaccurate, it’s borderline insulting!
Computer Gaming for all!
Okay, so there is that school of thought that suggests things used to be that way. That back in its infancy computer gaming was the preserve of kids or the… let’s say ‘socially awkward’ or the ‘overly interested in tech’. But the truth of the matter, really, is that gaming is not and never has been just for the sad-sacks or the little ones. It’s everywhere now – even on our phones – but it has always been there for everyone, and always will be. These days gaming, of one sort or another, is absolutely everywhere. Man, woman, child, pet, pig, pet pig… hell, probably even Madonna herself, whatever she is these days!
Those people who were very early on the uptake with PC games… well, here at Ebuyer we actually prefer to think of them as pioneers. Because, really, that’s what they were. And what about the people who developed the games, themselves? We’ll be talking about them, too, a little later on.
The development of the PC gaming industry itself from relatively humble beginnings to a multi-billion-if-not-trillion dollar going concern is one of the biggest booms of the last fifty years. Think of your own life, dear reader, and we reckon there’s always been some sort of gameplay in it – even if you don’t quite realise or recognise that fact. Let’s have a think about that – and let’s cast back further and see where the roots of modern PC gaming are. A look at the history of computer gaming, without bogging you down in overly bald timelines or stodgy facts.
Where did gaming begin?
Here in this article we’re talking about computer gaming. But just as a bit of a mind setting exercise, or context, it’s worth remembering that playing games on your PC or a console – or even on your smartphone – is only really the ‘most current version’ of a centuries old phenomenon.
Gaming is a pursuit which stretches back thousands of years – and computer games can be seen as pretty much the same thing but further down the long line. The history of computer games is, in part, the history of the technology they’re played on – and a statement of ‘where that tech was at’. Like all eras, PC gaming utilises (and is in keeping with) the tools and capabilities of its time.
So, this clearly shows that gaming – specifically, gaming for no other reasons than fun – is by no means a new concept for human beings. But perhaps the concept of dedicating large chunks of leisure time to gaming, in the way that very recent generations dedicated chunks of their time to going down the pub or watching TV, or the Romans dedicated large chunks of their time to invading places, is a relatively recent phenomenon.
TV really took off when ‘the man in the street’ could afford to buy. The explosions of different channels and different genres of programme, and so on… So, you would expect that PC games only popped up around the time that computers became widely available (for available read: ‘affordable’) for home users.
Back in the early 1980s purchasers of the ZX Spectrum, for example, could easily find themselves ‘distracted’ from ‘real life’ for, ooh, minutes at a time playing Manic Miner or somesuch. This device, quaint but in its day incredibly exciting, seems to definitely have been the ‘jumping on’ point for a generation – alongside the BBC and the Commodore 64. And, of course, the Atari console.
Certainly the early computer games now seem ridiculously primitive (though some of them are incredibly charming, and playable even still), but there were rudimentary steps on the road to get to them.
So what about the roots of computer gaming?
There are two possible ways to go when answering this particular question. Designing and creating a computer game involves a slightly different approach, a slightly different set of ‘mental tools’, than playing a computer game does. So, in a way, any question about the roots of computer gaming could be split into two possible answers: One looking at the creation and development of games (ie. who made them and how they came about), or one simply expressing the knowledge that games exist and looking at how they got better over the decades. We’ll opt for the former, for now.
Writing and developing a game is, in large part about, coding so therefore it involves logical thinking and a high degree of precise technical expertise. Being the ‘end user’ and playing a game also involves strategy and method, but even though games were quite simplistic in the early days they have also always involved huge elements of chance, choice or impulse for the gamer. Spontaneity. The ‘trick’ for the very best game developers, has been coding so that the computer can ‘calculate’ every single possible eventuality at every single minute juncture in a game. When you look at the mind-blowing visuals and expansive ‘worlds’ within some of the top titles these days, you can appreciate that an incredible amount of coding springing from a huge amount of brainpower has been involved ‘behind the scenes’. The ‘pay off’ for all of that work is an incredible experience for gamers.
It would be fair enough to say that computer games have had a huge influence over culture, and that culture has had an influence over computer games. But in terms of where the extremely disciplined mindsets and enormously capable skillsets required to create these games originated, we probably have to mine into the military. Like many things in ‘modern life leisure’, the deeper roots are not actually in leisure itself but in the military / industrial axis. Computer games are designed and built on technology which has developed from earlier tech originally built for ‘serious’ military use.
We can cast our minds back to the Bletchley Park cryptanalyser Alan Turing for a terrific example of the sort of focused thinking and effort required to create computer games. In a way, something he developed in 1948, along with colleague David Champernowne, is an important step on the road to modern computer games as, at the very least, it showed the possibilities. Turing developed Turochamp, as part of research into computer science and machine learning.
Turochamp was capable of playing an entire chess game against a human player (at a low level of play) by calculating all of the possible moves resulting from each position in play, and all of the potential player moves in response. Although the game ‘failed’ (in that it never came out of the development stage), it did inspire others to attempt to create – and within a couple of years a working computer chess program was successful.
We mentioned the military, a few sentences ago, as having been a crucial part of the history of PC games. The technology used in his work was developed for use by the military, and the skills and ‘type of thinking’ required for Turing to even consider creating a computer chess program were honed by their application to military purposes. Turing famously played a crucial role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis during World War II.
The computer boom and the first commercially available PC games
Everyone of ‘a certain age’ can probably remember playing ‘blip’ titles like Pong – the rudimentary computer game based on tennis. Batting a ‘blip’ back and forth across a dividing line (representing the tennis court’s net) was a simple but seemingly spage-age progression. In the beginning, from 1972 onwards, Pong could be played on large box-like gaming machines in entertainment arcades, but by the time Californian electronics company Atari launched the first domestic console in 1977, there were several games other than Pong available to home users. More on home console and PC games shortly.
At the same time as Atari released their debut console, Japanese electronics firm Taito launched the soon-to-be legendary Space Invaders. With a kitsch title seemingly ripped straight from a 1950s b-movie poster, the aim of gameplay was to defeat wave after wave of descending spacecraft by using a horizontally moving laser cannon. The truly brilliant Space Invaders can now be thought of as the rudimentary template for the entire shoot ’em up genre.
In a way, part of the addiction a generation felt towards Space Invaders (and others similar) is that there was no possible chance to win. The game tended to last only a couple of minutes and just got harder and harder as play went on. Even though, deep down, you knew there was no chance of ‘reaching the end of the game’ (as there actually wasn’t one), the motivation to continue pumping coins into the machine and playing was to achieve as high a score as possible. The aim was to enter the high score chart which would be displayed at the end of your game. Pride!
Other highly addictive ‘arcade games’ of note in the early days and just beyond included these familiar names: Asteroids, Galaxian, Pac-Man, Frogger and Pole Position. And many more. Their influence can still be felt today, not just as the building blocks of the modern standard, but culturally. In the case of Space Invaders and Pac-Man, for instance, the simplistic but striking design imagery of the games is still, to this day, present as an instantly recognisable part of our society’s pop culture iconography.
Home consoles and PC gaming
These days there are home gaming consoles developed and built by leading brands in practically all corners of the globe. The names Xbox and Playstation are ubiquitous enough to have slipped into the lexicon as bywords for gaming itself, in some ways.
Though they can often serve other purposes (as media servers or disc players) these consoles are high-end devices made especially to run games specifically designed for those consoles. They feature state-of-the-art components designed for maximum processing power and, because of this, the quality of the games they can run is often almost beyond belief.
Similarly, today’s gaming PCs are high-end devices. We’ll be talking a little bit more about gaming PCs in just a moment.
In terms of consoles, however, they weren’t always quite so advanced as today’s market leaders. The original Atari consoles now seem incredibly quaint. As ‘vintage’ cool as eight-track audio cartridges, bean bags, and the like. As we have stated several times in this article, though, they were an absolutely crucial point in the history of gaming. They really ‘opened things up’ for the general public to consider gaming as a viable – and acceptable – leisure pursuit.
Over the years other gaming consoles have ‘fallen by the wayside’ – think of the Sega Dreamcast or the Nintendo 64… and more. But each of these plastic boxes has a place in the hearts of gamers, and each of them is a step (or sometimes mis-step) on the way to where we are today. There are even collectors who pile-up old consoles.
In terms of gaming PCs, the current generation is quite possibly the most exciting in the entire history of computer gaming, and with a stack of the right peripherals you’ve got it made! Brands such as AlphaSync have carefully curated and almost science-fiction standard devices, built with top of the range components which, in combination, are capable of running the best and even the most demanding of gaming titles. Some of those titles are virtually cinematic in their visual ambition. Check out the AlphaSync range here – it’s incredible.
So, there we have it. Kind of a history of gaming – but also a rebuttal to that dreadfully lazy cliché we mentioned right at the start. Really, by taking you through all sorts of bits of information and opinion on the history of gaming, the most important thing we wanted to say is that it’s a massive world and it was made for all. Gaming can be for anyone and everyone – whether that’s computer gaming or not. Play is important, crucial in fact, to the happiness of human beings.
Of course, being happy but also being tech-heads at Ebuyer, it’s computers that make us the happiest… Thankfully these days there is enough processing power and plenty of brilliant games out there to satisfy all. And now, in the first quarter of the 21st century, being a gamer can finally seen as one of the coolest ways to spend your time. Maybe there should be a Gaming Pride day?!
Happy gaming everyone!