Some big events have occurred in gaming in recent years. We had a new console generation of course. We had the rise of F2P games and indies. Lots of classic games are getting remade or even getting sequels. Entire new genres are developing or coming to consoles for the first time. If you're a gaming historian, you've probably already realized that this is a big deal. If you're not, you might have simply been enjoying the sights and sounds without even realizing what it all might mean.
Among most circles, the SNES/Genesis era is considered the golden age of gaming. Even if you weren't playing games back then, you have almost undoubtedly heard of many of the bigger and some of the smaller games. It was a glorious time for gaming, just as the classical Greek era was for our own history. They say history repeats itself, and I believe that's exactly what is happening here. We are in our own Renaissance.
A Brief History Lesson
Personally, I love history. I even almost opted for a career in history before I decided I didn't relish the idea of being destitute. Luckily, I still picked up a few things that I can share with you guys. If, after reading this, you want to know more I recommend this excellent history book
, but I'll let you know everything you need to know to truly understand the point of this op-ed right here!
It all started with ancient civilizations. They were the beginning of time. Then we took a step forward and we had the Greeks. They made major leaps in science, technology, and art that have truly stood the test of time. Aristotle is even a household name and Sophomores in school are named after Sophocles. It was a golden age for humanity. We were finally growing as a species and realizing what we could be.
Then came the Romans, who created an empire that would last a thousand years and dominated the western world's culture. They too made significant advances in technology, government, and warfare that we take for granted today. But it wasn't meant to be, for when the Empire fell we were wrapped in a swirl of darkness that was appropriately named the Dark and Middle Ages. Instead of continuing along the glorious Roman path, we fell into stagnation, if not regression. Yes, there were technological advances, but humans simply didn't adequately use them. Instead, we were left with nothing but run of the mill war and despair.
Finally, Florence came along with the help of the Medici family and the Renaissance began. Instead of having ideas bouncing off the metaphorical walls in society's head, scholars and artists looked to the past for inspiration. Golden age ideas were re-evaluated with the new knowledge we had gained and society quickly made leaps and bounds forward at a rate never before seen. Some at the time even coined the term modi antichi
, which means to do something in the way of antiquity. Science, culture, thought, and just about everything in between were all on a meteoric rise that wouldn't slow for centuries.
If you've been following along, you probably realize where I'm going with this. Games on the NES and early PC operating systems are easily analogized to the ancient civilizations where humanity first began. Everything was just beginning. Technology was low, but still humanity began to slowly grow and build things bigger than themselves, beyond a few lines of code.
One of the highlights of our golden age is Sim City 2000, one of the first games alongside Civilization that showed how vast gaming could be.
Then we have the golden age of gaming. The SNES and Genesis are like Athens and Sparta, constantly at war and each the subject of great philosophical monologues. While Homer was writing the Odyssey, developers were creating Super Metroid
and Sonic and Knuckles
. These were arguably the first truly good games that could tell a story and be classified as something beyond simple fun. Culture grew in history's golden age, and so it did with the 16 bit generation as well.
When the Playstation hit the scene with the PS1, it decimated the competition. It took games that were previously exclusive to other consoles and converted them into its own, like Final Fantasy
. That's a lot like the Romans did, where conquered peoples were assimilated into the budding empire and truly became a part of it. By the release of the PS2, it was clear Sony had developed an Empire that seemed unstoppable.
This is Genji 2, a game from Sony's E3 2006. It is one of several missteps by the company at that year's show.
But all empires must fall, and E3 2006 was Sony's hubris dealing a deathstroke to that empire. What remained was nothing. We got a generation with better visuals, a few gems, but mostly nothing anyone will ever remember. For every Mass Effect trilogy
, there were dozens upon dozens of AAA games no one will ever go back to. Gaming was so stagnant the bald space marine meme developed and was actually true. For a time, gaming seemed to have lost sight of what its culture truly was and how gaming got to where it was.
The Gaming Renaissance
But with this latest generation, we are finally out of the Dark Ages and have begun what I believe is a video game Renaissance. Developers and publishers are looking back to the past, seeking new inspiration and learning from the past. Creativity is booming, and technology is advancing at a rapid rate creating new inventions that can change the way we play.
The past has certainly been a bounty for developers seeking to reinvigorate the games they create. We've seen remakes and reboots for all kinds of games. Phantom Dust (2017)
is still in the works. Torment: Tides of Numenera
and System Shock Remastered Edition
will reinvigorate decades-old franchises. On the Sony side we've got things like the new Crash Bandicoot
game that might actually be a return to form. And we've got more and more of these getting announced every year.
If we're lucky, we might even see a Brute Force remake. Wouldn't that be amazing?
But it's not just franchises that are being resurrected. Old concepts are being revised. Perhaps most prolific of all is the return of the colorful style of classic mascot platformers like Spyro
and Blinx the Timecat
. In our Dark Ages, we didn't see much beyond bald space marines fighting in in grey and brown, war-torn environments. Nowadays publishers are embracing unique games that inject the bright colors and genuine joy that games used to evoke. Games like Sunset Overdrive
and Ori and the Blind Forest
set standards we haven't seen in a decade.
A visual style that would have been right at home in 1998.
Beyond the colorful style, we have old gametypes re-emerging. If you browse the Xbox One marketplace nowadays, you'll be bombarded with story-driven adventure games. These types of games were huge twenty years ago, and in recent times developers have been looking back to them to create games like Life Is Strange
and the Artifex Mundi games
. Finally, we're also seeing a return of more traditional action adventure games from our Roman era thanks to games like ReCore
With ReCore, we're getting a true action adventure game where the experience is just as important as the gameplay. It's something you'd expect to have seen back in 2002.
Of course, there's new ideas as well. We've got the obvious technological marvels like VR and, perhaps, Hololens which will make a splash and enable some truly new gaming experiences. But we're also seeing new genres. The classic "CRPG," which stands for computer RPG (don't worry about it), has been making a return recently and has finally jumped over to consoles with some great success thanks to titles like Divinity: Original Sin - Enhanced Edition
. Then we've got new genres like the hero shooter, which I've already written about
, which look to old genres to potentially create brand new ones we haven't seen before.
All in all, it's actually a bit incredible if you stop to think about it. We're seeing some amazing stuff right now and I think in 20 years we'll hear people speaking about it fondly as perhaps the last time gaming culture truly flourished. Relish what we have now - don't take it for granted.
So we've been following history in lock-step. History does indeed repeat itself, so it might be interesting to wrap up the article by taking a look at where we may go in the future. With history as a guide, our path seems pretty clear:
- After the Renaissance, we had Colonialism when nations tried to spread their influence around the world. In the next generation, gaming is going to try to expand into new mediums. We're already seeing traces of that with a renewed push to get gaming movies and TV shows off the ground. Expect efforts in all similar directions to increase ten-fold as publishers look for new sources of revenue. That crossover will also affect traditional gaming, and we'll see a further increase in episodic gaming like HITMAN.
- Colonialism truly ended with the World Wars. In gaming, we can expect competing products to go to war with each other and leave only one standing. The primary fight will likely be between virtual reality and augmented reality (like Pokemon Go!), but no part of gaming will be safe. I expect console gaming will mostly die here as we know and love it. Other casualties of war will include awful F2P games and most games that aren't episodic in nature.
- After the World Wars, the world spiraled for half a century as the victors barely avoided further conflict. It wasn't until the fall of the Soviet Union that we've really been able to move forward into a new era. Post-modernism, as it is called, is actually a lot like the Renaissance. Scholars and artists nowadays are once again looking to the past to find inspiration while globalization is bringing humanity together. In gaming, the post-modern generation is going to be amazing. The console experience will fully be a relic of the past. Gaming, to the extent it's even recognizable as that, will be a natural extension of our everyday life. The devices we carry will be our gaming systems, and they'll be capable of truly feats we can't imagine. Developers will look at the past, perhaps even at 2016, and find inspiration to create the new games that will define a generation.
What happens beyond that? I'm no oracle. I can only speak with the past to guide me. But I'd love to hear what you have to think, so please sound off in the comments below and tell me what you think about our Renaissance and what's in-store in the future. And take some time to enjoy what we have. History says it's not going to last.