Gaming: The world within a world
Nowadays, if you go around asking people what they do to entertain themselves, at least a few people will say they like to play video games. The video game industry today is worth over $130 billion, and is expected to reach $180 billion by 2021. This growth didn’t just happen overnight. It has been 60 years since the first ever video game was released. In 1958, physicist William Higinbotham released a game titled Tennis for Two at the Brookhaven National Laboratory‘s annual public exhibition. He designed the game, displayed on an oscilloscope. The game’s visuals show a representation of a tennis court viewed from the side, and players adjust the angle of their shots with a knob on their controller and try to hit the ball over the net by pressing a button. It was a very popular game during this three day exhibition in New York. This game was the start of a whole new world within a world. This was the beginning of video games.
By the 1970’s, the commercial application of these electronic attractions were realized in the form of arcade games. These mass produced, self-contained units dispensed coin operated entertainment. The most iconic game from this era is called Pong, which was created in 1972. Pong proved to become immensely popular, and was the first ever commercially successful game. A new wave of games in 1978 ushered in the golden age of the arcade. The very famous Space Invaders by Taito sparked the shooting genre, filling coin boxes worldwide.
The 1980’s were a colorful decade. A newly available arcade technology reflected this, with titles like Pac-Man. While the very popular yellow circle segment gobbled up coins, early computer games were breaking new ground, such as Zork, one of the first interactive fiction story games. 1981, a very important year in video game history, saw Mario’s very first outing in Donkey Kong, although at the time he was known as Jumpman, for his rather mundane ability to bound over barrels. And soon after, in 1983, Mario Brothers was released on the Nintendo. One year later, we were introduced to the deceptively simple, yet fiendishly addictive, Tetris. The American release of the NES came in 1985, and with it, Super Mario Brothers. This was a hugely influential side scrolling platformer that would go on to set sales records unmatched by any other game, even today. The end of the 80s marked a ramp of pace for the industry, with new 16-bit machines that pushed the graphical threshold beyond anything seen before. Shadow of the Beast, in 1989, wowed many with its graphics. Its impressive sprite artwork and parallax scrolling background acted as a catalyst to drive sales for this new hardware.
Fast forward to the new millennium, which saw the PS2 and the Gamecube launch, with Xbox not too far behind. Hailing from the original Medal of Honor team, newly formed studio Infinity Ward released their own take on the WW2 shooter, in 2003’s Call of Duty. Instead of focusing on a single front, multiple facets were shown, with three authentic and interwoven campaigns. 2005 saw the launch of the first Guitar Hero, sparking a cultural phenomenon. It also somehow convinced many people that it was a good idea to buy a fake plastic guitar. We also saw the start of the seventh generation with the launch of the Xbox 360, and in 2006 the chainsaw-fused gory action of Gears of War emerged. Set up on an ashen planet, the armor-clad Delta Squad engage in futile combat with the grotesque Locust threat. Nintendo yet again entered the fray with the oddly named but hugely popular Wii – and the bundled game, Wii Sports. This would outsell most games, which makes it one of the most popular games of all time. The Wii’s popularity would also prompt a surge in interest in the concept of motion controls. 2007 saw a certain series take a radical swing towards the present day, with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare bringing the modern military shooter to the forefront of an entire generation. Not so far after, there was Minecraft, with the first public alpha available in 2009. While the graphics are simplistic, the randomly generated worlds rewarded exploration, and the addition of multiplayer made for a compelling cooperative building experience.
Fast forward to today, and huge video game titles are hitting the markets often. One of the biggest games of our time, Fortnite, has attracted players from around the world. This doesn’t just include average everyday people, countless movie stars, athletes, models, and other celebrities have been seen playing these games in their free time as well. To put things in comparison, Avengers: Infinity War, one of the biggest movies, made $257 million opening weekend. Activision recently released the long awaited addition to the Call of Duty: Black Ops franchise, which brought in $750 million on opening weekend. Red Dead Redemption 2, coming out just a couple weeks ago, isn’t so far behind, bringing in $500 million opening weekend as well.
In September of 2013, a new pop-culture milestone was reached. The newest installment of Grand Theft Auto did $800 million in worldwide sales in its first 24 hours. That was the biggest launch day ever for any piece of entertainment–any movie, any record, anything at all. In 2012, the category-leading first person shooter, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 made $1 billion in 15 days. It took Avatar, the top-grossing movie of all time, two days longer to earn the same amount. Obviously, the industry is able to put out insane numbers despite all of the negativity the media portrays.
Although the media usually only shows the bad side of video games, there are tons of positive reasons as to why the booming industry is putting up extraordinary numbers. One of the main reasons people play video games is because it allows them to interact and be a part of a world that is only available in video games. For example, in Grand Theft Auto, you become part of a group of highly dangerous criminals that take part in a multitude of heists such as bank robberies and other high intensity, big paying missions. Games like Call of Duty allow the players to be able to “go to war”, and follow a really well made story that does a great job of making it seem realistic. Minecraft and other open world adventure games allow you to roam around an open world and do what ever you want, whether that is building villages, fighting monsters, or being farmers. Although movies do have great stories, they always have a set story, not able to be changed by the viewers. Video games have such a big audience because players are able to do certain things that they may not have the chance of ever doing in real life. I think the idea of character customization also ties in to the fact that so many people play video games. Character customization lets players make characters that look like them. This just adds to the idea of players “being in the game”, which you cannot find in movies.
Video games are also just a lot more convenient. You are able to do all of this from the comfort of your own home. You get to travel to all of these different worlds and experience all of these different stories, in your room on your television. It’s a lot more convenient than going and driving the the movie theater, only to find yourself coming home a couple hours later. Society today mostly cares about doing things the easy way. If people had the choice of staying or leaving their home for entertainment, most people would choose to stay home since it requires the least amount of work on their part.
Movies have, without a doubt, been the number one source of entertainment thus far. Millions, if not billions of people go see movies, which has created god tier characters, and brought many people together from around the world. But with how well video games are doing now, and how fast they are changing, there is no doubt in my mind that video games will become the preferred method of entertainment within the next 10-15 years. With virtual reality about to become reality, we will soon be able to enter a whole new world, from the comfort of our couch.