Gaming, as Viewed 20 Years Ago

The Independent’s Thomas Sutcliffe asks: Why don’t we take computer games more seriously?

The answer to the question is easy: it’s generational. The mainstream newspapers and TV shows are still, more or less, ruled by those from a generation before gaming became ubiquitous. To them, it’s a fringe activity of no value. Any such attention is then naturally relegated to the fringes, be it some obscure cable channels, gamer-published “enthusiast press” and the internet. Give it time. It will change because a new generation will come to power.

No where is this more obvious than in that very same column. Thomas Sutcliffe shows his age.

given the almost universal enlistment in an activity that only 20 years ago was the preserve of home-programmers and hobbyists

20 years ago? It’s easy to forget, now that we are approaching the end of the first decade of the new millennium, that twenty years ago was the tail-end of the 1980s. 1988 was the height and peak of the Nintendo Entertainment System. I was in third grade. Back then you’d have been very hard pressed to find a boy in my grade that didn’t have contact, either by owning one or having a friend that did, a Nintendo. Yes, my experience was very suburban middle-class, but videogames were ubiquitous for my generation twenty years ago. This is hardly the “home-programmer and hobbyist” reality that Mr. Sutcliffe thinks existed back then.

Every year since then there has been an article, somewhere, wondering what this whole videogame thing is and why’s it so popular with the kids? These little peeks into this world by people clearly outside of it are cute. Here’s an article from the New York Times, from December 1988, that looks at this whole “Nintendo” thing: Nintendo Scores Big. Some choice quotes:

These are the daydreams of young Americans, but they are based on hugely successful video games, called Nintendo, that are made in Japan.

Many Nintendo best sellers, like ”Super Mario Bros. 2,” are based on wildly preposterous premises, this particular one being two mustachioed Italian janitors who endure various trials, such as dodging hammer-swinging turtles and lava balls and man-eating plants, in order to save a Mushroom Princess. No matter. Kids can’t get enough of the games.

Occasional shortages of computer memory chips have limited production of some highly popular Nintendo games, causing an outcry among retailers and frustrated players. But the company carefully monitors sales, putting out new titles and pulling slow sellers. It generally prefers to undersupply stores than to oversupply them.

(Yes, that is 1988 they’re writing about, not 2008.)

In twenty years we might be looking back at the “why aren’t videogames taken seriously?” articles of the day with a nostalgic tinge in our eyes. “Weren’t they cute?”

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