Not long ago, I was presented with this question: "What if this current generation—Wii, PS3, Xbox 360—were actually the beginning of gaming culture?" At first I scoffed. I mean, this generation is simply not the beginning of gaming culture, and has obviously been built on a foundation that was laid decades ago. But the question stuck with me nonetheless. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like I had to reconsider everything about gaming I had taken for granted for pretty much the past twenty years.
Gaming would be an entirely different beast, plain and simple.
First of all, would Nintendo even be a player? Or Sony, for that matter? I mean, Sony got into the console business only after being subcontracted by Nintendo to design a disc-based add-on to the Super NES that would rival the SEGA CD. And Nintendo… Without the incredible influence they had in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, would they even be around today? Perhaps, though I imagine they would be making something like card games, since that's what they were doing before launching the Famicom, which would eventually come over to the states as the NES.
The only current console-maker I can legitimately see making video games would be Microsoft. With such a long history of computer hardware/software development, I could see them being a big player in the genesis (no pun intended, because that would be a really bad pun) of the video game. Much like the early days of console gaming, back when Atari ruled the console market with no real competition, I have a feeling Microsoft would have an early monopoly. Now, I'm not sure what they would call this device, but just for the sake of this article, let's pretend it still somehow ended up being called the Xbox.
I'm guessing this hypothetical Xbox would have an ungodly controller that lacked analog sticks. I mean, this was something that Sony truly figured out first with its DualShock controllers in the late 1990s, though you could argue that they stole the idea from Nintendo's N64 controller. You could in turn argue that Nintendo probably got the idea from the arcades of the 70s and 80s or the joystick controller of the Atari 2600. Now, if these arcades hadn't existed, and Nintendo or Sony never got into gaming in the first place, would Microsoft have figured out right off the bat that analog sticks would be the way to go? I highly doubt it. It took decades of controller evolution before we ended up there.
Because the original Xbox controller—the Duke—was so large and unwieldy, I'm going to assume that the hypothetical Xbox's controller would be even more so. Although, a counterargument would be the fact that over the past twenty years, we've seen electronic devices shrink drastically and become more comfortable to hold. Microsoft might pick up on the fact that people were used to holding smartphones, and would design a controller similar in size.
Another thing we must consider is games themselves. This would be a lawless, untamed landscape. There would be no real genre formulas yet. The first-person shooter? Probably wouldn't exist. The RPG? Probably not. I imagine at this point we'd be seeing a lot of poorly constructed action games. Movie tie-ins would be common, as it would be a good way to draw in consumers who were familiar with the films but skeptical of this new video game thing. These movie tie-in games would be far inferior to even the worst movie tie-ins we've seen recently, but we'd have nothing to measure them against, and would probably not be quite as hard on them.
And what of our beloved game series that began in generations past and still live to this day? We'd probably not have Mario, Legend of Zelda, Metal Gear, Final Fantasy, Metroid, Mega Man, Half-Life, Call of Duty, Halo, or any of the other staples of gaming. I'd even argue that without the influence of past generations, series that began during this generation, like Gears of War and Uncharted, wouldn't exist either.
Without all the Mortal Kombat-era controversies, we wouldn't yet have a ratings board yet. Without a ratings board, would developers be pushing the envelope of violence to try to appeal to older gamers, or would they be focusing on family friendly titles? I'm guessing a few developers would be making some more adult games, but they wouldn't be the norm. Since gaming was originally aimed at kids in the early days, I'm assuming that's the audience Microsoft would target with its hypothetical Xbox. I mean, those of us who play games as adults now have grown up with gaming. Would we be as open to the idea right now if we hadn't? I'm guessing many of us wouldn't be.
One thing I could almost guarantee is that this first generation of gaming would be connected to the Internet. With how "connected" the world is by now, this much would have been obvious to console makers. But would developers use this Internet connectivity for some hardcore competitive gaming experiences, or would we just see online poker and game like FarmVille? I'm going to go with the latter.
Now, there's a scene toward the end of Back to the Future where Marty McFly begins to fade from existence after accidentally interfering with his parents' hookup. He watches in horror as his hand becomes transparent, which is especially tragic as he's trying to play "Earth Angel" on the guitar. If the past gaming generations somehow ceased to exist, gaming as we know it could very well flicker out of existence like Marty McFly almost did back in 1955.
Simply put, the further we look into this question, the further we see the very core of gaming itself unravel. Video games have evolved drastically, having gone through several iterations and learning experiences. Everything we take for granted now has been built on the shoulders of the successes and failures of the past. Without that backbone, gaming could hardly even exist today.
What do you think? What would be different about this gaming generation if it were the very beginning of gaming? Let us know in the comments.
Editor / News Director
Date: April 11, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*