Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Videogames as a Medium.

Videogames as a Medium

The terms describing media have been evolving constantly through the years and alongside the evolution of media there has also been a concurrent evolution of the medium used to convey that media. Mediums like Book, Radio, Television VHS,DVD, Bluray and the Personal computer have all been accepted forms of media-medium evolution. Mediums that as they’ve come and gone we, as a society, have come to embrace each of them in one form or the other.

One form of media/medium that has evolved concurrently is the Video Game, once deemed only for children, The video game itself has seen a long history of evolution starting out as simple blocks on a television screen to full 3D capabilities in palm of your hand.

Video Game Consoles, which would be the medium, have gone through changes that have now made them rival even the eldest of mediums (such as television and even films). Though once cited as the underdog or “children’s toy” videogames have now branched out and become accessible to everyone ranging from children to adults and even the elderly.

The medium and media have both changed so drastically from their roots that a look at the major players, such as Nintendo,Atari, Magnavox and later contenders like Sony and Microsoft and how they played an integral part of ushering gaming into the age of online computing and electronic socialization and forever changing video games into a form of new media. History

To give credit where credit is due gaming grew out of the same pot as the computer, much of what gaming is today is based off computing in some way or form. The first video game was created in October 18,1958 called “Tennis for two” and was built from an analog computer and used an oscilloscope for a screen.

The creator, William Higinbotham a nuclear physicist worked at Brookhaven national laboratories instrumentation division originally created the game to “Liven up” the facility at which he worked he was quoted as saying “It might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society."

Tennis for two became a hit at Brookhaven labs, being the first of its kind it brought in large crowds who marveled at this new interactive “toy”. Several years later in 1961, a student of MIT name Steve Russell created the game “Space War” the first interactive computer game, the creation of this specific game influenced a young entrepreneur named Nolan Bushnell, who in 1972 created the world famous videogame company Atari, which produced the equally as famous Pong arcade machine.

The release of Pong and many other arcade titles in the late 70’s marked the beginging of the Video Arcade era, The video arcade was a venue where people(at the time children and Teenagers) went to play arcade based video game titles that were housed in cabinets. The cabinets consist of a video monitor, controls (often a joystick and buttons), computer hardware and software, sometimes including sound hardware and a coin-, token-, or magnetic card-based payment mechanism.

Arcades in and of themselves became popular meeting places for Teenagers and children, usually Arcade vendors provided food and drink to patrons and if not the Arcade was usually located within a shopping complex allowing for easy access for people who were tired of shopping.

Aside of the early social aspects Video Arcades often had different types of games that could be played single player or with two players. Arcade centers in the late 70’s quickly grew into popularity with games like, Space invaders (which broke sales records at the time )and Galaxian paving the way for more famous titles like Pac man and Centipede (80’s) the arcade scene became increasingly popular.

By the time the 80’s rolled around Arcades had almost reached their pinnacle, dubbed as “The Golden Age of the Arcade” one of the biggest games of that era was the famous “Donkey Kong” arcade game, released in 1981 ,one of the first games created by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto of the Japanese company Nintendo, Donkey Kong goes on to be one of the most played games of that year. AS a whole Arcade games had reached a $5 billion revenue and at this time Americans were spending more than 750,000 hours playing videogames.

Around this time manufactures’ began making videogame consoles developed specifically for home use. These consoles though smaller than there Arcade counterparts allowed for gaming to be done at home. Though less powerful than arcade cabinets, Home consoles allowed for games to be played at home for a significantly cheaper price.The proliferation of Home consoles slowly brought about the decline of the popularity of Arcades Companies like Atari and Maganvox created a flood of consoles like the Atari 2600, ATARI 5200, ATARI 7800 and the ATARI JAGUAR as well as the Magnavox’s Odyssey. As expected consumers jumped at this new marvel, “An arcade like experience in the living room?” Sales were at an all time high, game developers also jumped at this chance to make money basically flooding the console market at the time with games that were low in quality, combined with the flood of different home consoles these series of events lead to what many have dubbed “The Great Video Game crash of 1982”.

With all the different consoles and games being flooded into the market (many games were subpar) and with retailers being overwhelmed by having too many copies of certain games the market literally collapsed on itself. Companies like Atari and Magnavox which at the start had pioneered home consoles, suddenly had to drop from the home console market due to lack of interest from the consumer. For a time in the United States gaming, Arcade and home console seemed to be all but done for. For a period of 2-3 years that was the exact case. It wasn’t until a company Called Nintendo launched its first Home Console that things started to look up for Gaming in the United States.

Nintendo Enters the Market

During the Great Video Game Crash in America, On the other side of the planet A Japanese Card game company launched its first Home console, The Nintendo Family Computer Also known as the Famicom. Nintendo was aiming to launch the Famicom in the United States, initially a gambit Nintendo releases the Famicom. (Renamed to the Nintendo Entertainment System) in limited quantities

Since critics and retailers were wary of home consoles after the crash so wary that Nintendo was put under contract to buy back any unpurchased systems and games if they didn’t sell. Nintendo’s gambit worked and the system became a hit

With the introduction of the NES and stellar games like Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda and of course the Super Mario Brothers Nintendo all but revitalized the videogame industry in America.

Along with bringing the arcade like experience back into the home Nintendo also marketed gaming on the go in the form the Nintendo Gameboy an 8-bit handheld video game device developed and manufactured by Nintendo. It was released in Japan on April 21, 1989, in America on July 31, 1989. It was the first handheld console in Nintendo’s line of handheld electronic gaming devices and was created by Gunpei Yokoi and Nintendo's Research and Development.

The Gameboy’s design was partly based off an older lcd based gaming device the Game & Watch. The gameboy quickly became a hit owing much of its success from having ports of several popular games from the Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo made the decision to package the handheld with the puzzle game “Tetris” making

With the videogame industry slowly but surely other home console developers decided to get a piece of the pie. Atari and a new player, Sega, Though Nintendo continued to hold a Strong almost stranglehold grip on the industry.

The Next Generation

By this point the technology in game consoles had advanced to the point that they (depending on the title) could rival some of their older arcade counterparts. In the 1990’s Nintendo introduced the Super Nintendo Entertainment system.

A much more powerful system than its predecessor it allowed for more vibrant colors and more engrossing games than the Nintendo Entertainment System. A game like Star Fox, a futuristic space shooter, was released in the spring of 1993 for the SNES. was the first three-dimensional Nintendo videogame, and one of the only games to include the Super FX chip, a co-processor used to accelerate graphics display. The complex display of three-dimensional models with polygons was totally new and uncommon in console video games, and the game was much-hyped as a result. (Snes)

With the development of better hardware, games increased in quality, they had moved from mere blips on the screen to full blown experiences, games had become more interactive. Players were becoming immersed in brighter more colorful worlds. Games became deeper, with the larger cartridge space games could become larger and incorporate more. ("Snes specs")Over the next several years Nintendo would remain on top with Sega’s Genesis trailing not too far behind. The greater hardware hand in hand with greater software allowed for Nintendo and its SNES to hold the interest of gamers worldwide.By the Mid 1990’s Nintendo was set to release their next Home Console, The Nintendo 64, originally titled “The Ultra 64” it boasted even more power the Super Nintendo. Nintendo was the last to enter the Fifth Generation of Console games and the last one to produce a console that still used cartridges, for at this time Sega’s Dreamcast and Sony’s Playstation were now using CD based mediums.

Allowing for the storage of more data, Nintendo decided to stick with cartridges over CDs, simply because of the “durability” and the lack of load times (Since the data on a cartridge can be accessed by the system much faster than a disc based system , this was little in the way of loading).

This decision to stick to an older medium, such as cartridges instead of upgrading to CD based medium, caused some developers to turn their backs on Nintendo, Since the Cartridges were not only limited in size (in terms of memory) they were also more expensive.

Many long time developers who had started out on the NES, like Square, the producer of the Final Fantasy series of videogames, left Nintendo for Sony’s new Playstation . This was the case for many developers who wanted more freedom in their games. Because of this oversight, The Nintendo 64 fell into second place behind Sony’s Playstation, which at the time was the new console on the block. Also known as the PS1 was Sony Electronics first foray into the videogame industry and was a hit.

The Play station one was technically inferior to the Nintendo 64(which was at literally 64 bit processing, while the ps1 was at 32) despite this discrepancy in power, PS1 games managed to, at times, looked way superior to anything on the Nintendo 64,.The CD’s allowed for the addition of FMV’s (Full motion Videos) which bordered on cinematic, the 64, with its cartridges stuck with limited storage capacity, were unable to reproduce the same effect. Online Integration

Another selling point to the Playstation was that it was able to play music CD’s making it a game console that also play other media Sony focused on this business model into its other systems as well. With the release of The Sony Play Station 2, Sony’s Second home console the idea of a console doing more than just playing videogames. With the release of Nintendo’s Gamecube and the Introduction of Microsoft, mostly PC oriented company’s release of the Microsoft Xbox, gaming as a whole took a whole new leap into interactivity and integration of media of devices. With the Playstation 2 and the Xbox came the ability to play DVD’s. The ability of DVD playback was heavily advertised by both parties.

Nintendo’s Gamcube did not have dvd playback like its competitors, instead tired to stick with the GameCube being a pure gaming machine. Nintendo’s plan was to introduce connectivity with its latest handheld, the gameboy advance, allowing players to use the handheld gaming system as an external gaming device hooked to the console.

The Gamecube’s connectivity however paled in comparison to what the Xbox was bringing to the table, The Xbox had introduced integrated (least for its time) online for some of its game, though the Sega Dreamcast before it had online games for its console ,Microsoft’s was far more advanced, allowing players to arrange games in lobbies and organize into teams also by adding voice support so players could communicate in game via microphones was a huge leap in gaming. After seeing the success of Microsofts online model for the xbox, Sony and Nintendo followed suit, with varying degrees of success, Sony released its “Playonline” service which allowed players to be able to play games like Final Fantasy XI, an Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game ,Action Roleplaying games monster hunter and first person shooter type games as well.

Nintendo’s online model was the least robust as its competitors, with only four games playable online having the weakest line up The Gamcube fell into third place behind its competitors. Online and Social aspects

In today’s gaming, it is almost expected of a system to have internet accessing capabilities and being ale to send messages and chat with friend’s in-game. Sony’s Playstation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 36 With The addition of online capabilities and the advancement of hardware, Home videogame consoles have come close to rivaling personal computers, being able to connect to friends from across the globe and actually have conference call like programs,which allow groups of people to set up their own room.

A prime example is Microsoft’s online service, Xboxlive, a comprehensive online service which allows users to watch movies on Netflix, make chat rooms to chat with their friends and even post on facebook and twitter, while Nintendo’s service offers eshops for both its console and handheld and Sony’s console has the same services as the 360,minus the group chat.


Gaming consoles went from simple toys of amusement to actually media centers for which players could use to, not only play games but to communicate with others, with the integration of online and being able to access websites like blogger,facebook and twitter home consoles have taken a leap that has made them more versatile and integral as a medium.

Videos of Interest

Final Fantasy has always been a bench mark of a Consoles power-here's a video that highlights the evolution of this classic series

The enhancement of videogames over the past 30 years.


  1. The evolution of video games as media of entertainment and perhaps expression sometimes presented in your paper was really interesting to me. Especially because I used to own some of those devices that were really of historical importance, like the Gameboy, the SuperNes, or even Sega's Game Gear, which was the company's first handheld console, and whose main advantage over Gameboy was that it had a colored screen with more detailed graphics. The online aspect of contemporary games is really amazing, and I dare say significantly enhances the whole experience, making it much more interactive, as opposed to playing against the CPU only. What I also find fascinating, as I have not really delved into today's video games that much, is the improvement in graphics, which sometimes reaches real life standards. There are specific games of the modern era, such as Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy, that have an immensely detailed plot behind them, much like that of an actual movie or even better. It is amazing how game companies pay so much attention to the story and even hire professional script writers to compose the storyline.

  2. I loved reading your paper! It's so interesting to learn about the world of gaming. Being a game enthusiast myself (best console ever N64), it's very interesting to see the progression of gaming into a real and tangible world of social interaction.

  3. Remember the days of two game controllers. That was it, only two people could play at once maximum. New media has taken gaming to unforeseen social frontiers. N64(agree with you Zoe) was the first game system my family owned that had four controllers. We had the whole family playing Mario Party. Now with the power of the almighty internet, I'm playing video games with 15, 20 people at a time and some of these people are halfway across the world. It is very interesting to look at the evolution of gaming and link it to the evolution of communication. Quite an fascinating relationship.

  4. I am not a big gamer but I truly enjoyed this essay. I used to play Sonic as a kid and that was the only video game I loved. Recently I started playing the wii because my sister bought it and thought it would be fun. The only game I play on it now is Mario Party. But I really do like the idea of how gaming can connect people across the world. I also think the way the gaming world is going is interesting as well. the Kinect for xbox is breaking new barriers with not having a remote and your body being the controller.

  5. I enjoyed this paper as well especially since i grew up with a brother that forced me to play most of these. Although i will never tell him, i def enjoyed mario kart, super mario brothers, and donkey kong. The "Evolution of Video Games" video was really amazing in showing how it all started to how they are now. I currently have Wii at home and it still amazes me. Interesting to think where to next.

  6. I enjoyed reading your paper because you made me remember all the cool games that I used to play. I like how you explained how we went from playing video games at the arcades to everyone owning their own video game consoles. We users spent so much time,energy, and money on games. Then when you talked about how we went to portable gaming experience, I thought about the game Pokeman as a child for nitendo gameboy. I was addicted to that game I took it everywhere with me. I played it for hours. I saw it as my acquire skills. I wanted to play everyone. Just like someone carrying a resume with them was there credentials, as a child your gameboy was you credentials of how well, or how good you are in that game.

  7. I found this paper extremely enlightening, especially because I have no idea about video games, except maybe the ones I used to play on sega. It is truly amazing how far new media has brought the gaming industry. I thought it was also interesting how you brought up arcade games in comparison to where video games are now. In my opinion, this was definitely a very interesting topic.

  8. This has to be one of my most favorite topics. Come on, who doesn't love video games! I enjoyed how you broke down the history of video, from its beginning to its current status. Video games has allowed reality to connect with the virtual world. I know as a child I enjoyed playing video games because it allowed me to imagine myself inside this dream world that I thought never existed. Now we don't have to pretend because game consoles such as Wii and XBOX Kinect give you the opportunity to feel that you are part of that virtual world that is being shown on your television screen. The fact that video games have turned into a more interactive console, has made it more enjoyable. Many video games can also be played with millions of people from all over the world, which is something that was never done before. This has take video games to the next extreme. I can only imagine how video games will evolve in the next few years but I do look forward to it!

  9. I do not believe video games itself as a medium; however, they are the storytellers of their creators. It is amazing that to see gameplay addicts people hours and hours a day to see what is going to happen next. On the other hand, the games are changing rapidly with growing technology. They are not for shooters and racers anymore. Wii Fit is changing the game. Fitness games are reshaping the industry. The sales numbers are increasing heavily because games are not storyteller mediums for teenagers anymore. They are for every age group.