In the entire scope of human existence, from the first breath of primeval man to the towering cityscapes of the 21st century, fifteen years is barely any time at all. In the gaming industry, however, it’s a relative eternity, an epoch, a span of time in which entire console generations can rise and fall, trends can change, careers made and unmade, genres born and genres passed away …
Remember for a moment what your gaming experience was like in the mid-1990’s: a bulky, low-res, standard-definition TV connected to the final, gasping remains of your SNES or Sega Genesis. The PC in the adjacent room was a blocky, two-ton behemoth just barely capable of running Myst. Stacked crudely on the table beside it was undoubtedly a collection of boxes for the latest King’s Quest or Monkey Island games. The standard for interactivity consisted of LOOK AT, USE, PUSH, PULL, OPEN, CLOSE, GIVE and TALK TO. Phone bills sagged with the weight of costly calls to company hint lines.
And there was a sense that gaming might never be more than the basement pastimes of proto-nerds in an age before geek was cool.
Then came Sony’s PlayStation, the console which history will no doubt remember as the evolutionary successor to the original NES. The next leap forward; the very foundation of our current high-def, wi-fi, online community that year-over-year now consistently trumps Hollywood. Of course, we hardly knew that at the time. The transition from cartridges and floppy discs to ever-spinning CDs damn near blew our minds. The Saturn, the 3DO, the Sega-CD – each of them stumbled where PlayStation somehow managed to succeed. While Nintendo’s N64 took only a shambling half-step forward, Sony leapt ahead, offering sharper graphics, superior sound and a more sophisticated brand of games, cinematic in scope and appealing to the rapidly aging player who’d only recently outgrown Mario.
Sony’s PlayStation laid the foundation for what would become the widest selling console in gaming history, the PlayStation 2. Nintendo would continue to serve a younger, more casual audience, and the emergence of Microsoft’s Xbox suggested a potential competitor in the making, but during its prime, the PlayStation brand single-handedly defined a generation of gamers, charting a course that the entire industry continues to follow. Without a doubt, the original PlayStation was integral in raising our demographic into the 18-34 stratosphere, solidifying gaming as a bona-fide entertainment industry, serving both adults and children alike, and deserving of trade show spectacles, online portals and dedicated TV programming.
Actually, the celebration of PlayStation’s tenth anniversary might have been a more joyous occasion, as we look back on the last five years as the Xbox 360 clambered its way to console domination and the PS3 initially struggled with product and pricing issues. But as the industry stays off the arrival of a subsequent generation of consoles with the emergence of Kinect and the Move, Sony’s historical platform finds itself with yet another opportunity to seize the future.
Prior to September 9, 1995, the idea that I would be sitting here today, writing this article, surrounded by my colleagues at G4 and joined in the industry by dozens of publications and hundreds of writers, might have been virtually incomprehensible … a gig at Nintendo Power might have been the most that a young gamer could hope for. The fact that all of this became possible is attributable largely to the floodgates opened by the PlayStation and PlayStation 2.
So take a moment to remember what your gaming experience was like 15 years ago … and then imagine what it might be like 15 years from now.