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Times have changed. Gaming is now at the forefront of entertainment to a significant proportion of the first world population. We saw how robust the PlayStation 3 was in being a gaming machine and a home media centre and now we have the Xbox One, the entertainment machine that is taking over living rooms.
In honesty, it always has been popular on a much smaller scale but something has changed, gaming is now far more acceptable than it ever was. Whilst the stigmas associated with gaming still persist, it is shunted towards the MMORPG and RTS die-hards, not that I have anything bad to say about Vin Diesel's World of Warcraft gaming or the South Korean TV channels dedicated to StarCraft.
A StarCraft tournament in South Korea; StarCraft is serious business, and is considered a career.
I can only speak for my observations, but from what I remember, gaming in the 90's and early 2000's was always looked down upon. To be a gamer back then, especially in a high school was considered 'sad', 'geeky' and all those negative connotations that came with it. I got a lot of weird looks bringing my old Gameboy into school although that may have been because of Pokemon Blue. I blame the lack of an arcade culture. Personally, in Britain the only arcades I see are at bowling alleys or located in some dark corner of a cinema. I come from Hong Kong where gaming took hold in the 80's and the arcade culture there is a night and day difference. It costs roughly 10-20 pence for 1 credit whereas we'd be lucky to play a round of Ghost Squad for a pound.
Nonetheless, I was quite happy with being a gamer and being known as a gamer, although I wasn't the generic kind that had a PlayStation 2. I was into some much stronger stuff on PC such as: Medal of Honour: Allied Assault; Battlefield 1942; Planetside; Runescape, and Planetarion. I had access to massive online multiplayer on dedicated servers a long time ago.
Nowadays, the same folk that made fun of the 'sad' kids playing with their 'toys' telling them to 'grow up' and 'get a life' have a console at home whether that be an Xbox 360, a PS3 or a Nintendo Wii. They may be the stereotypical Call of Duty and FIFA casuals but they have changed. I remember having arguments with my parents over how much I played games, now they spend more time on Candy Crush than I do on Battlefield 4. Football Manager has been citied 35 times in divorce cases in the UK whilst a host of celebrities and footballers openly game. Gaming is everywhere, whether that is a mobile title or an AAA blockbuster. Nowadays if you don't play games, you are the one that's 'sad'.
By the end of 2013 Candy Crush Saga had been installed over 500 million times, it generates $1 million USD per day.
Even then with the overwhelming success of the PS2, gaming didn't become mainstream solely because of that. I would argue that gaming would still be considered a niche market mainly for kids had it not been for the original Xbox. The original Xbox was a game-changer, it was the solid foundation on which modern console gaming is based on. The Xbox 360 later took that foundation and built it up to what it is today. They are the primary reasons why gaming is mainstream. What the Xbox brought to the table where the PS2 could not was an online infrastructure and a revolutionary game that challenged everything we ever thought possible on consoles; Xbox Live and Halo.
Xbox Live was an entirely new concept to console gaming; a service that demanded broadband connection as a minimum. Gamers were outraged at the time, as I recall, internet was already expensive even for dial-up but Microsoft had predicted the broadband explosion and offered the can't miss title. It forced the hands of gamers. According to Ofcom, at the end of 1999, only 1 in 5 homes in the UK had an internet connection and the large majority of them only had dial-up. By the end of 2001, over 6.2 million homes had broadband.
It was not a coincidence that the broadband explosion was paralleled by the increased popularity of Xbox Live. Xbox and Halo had turned heads and also attracted the envious eyes of PC gamers. While the PS2 and the Dreamcast could play games online, they couldn't offer the quality of service, infrastructure, and nor could they provide the must-have, must-play IP.
Halo was truly revolutionary. I remember the days playing 2v2 split screen on system link and could only imagine how good it must be online; something that I finally had the chance to experience with Halo Anniversary. The control pad was also underrated. The Xbox had the first ever control pad that could actually move a cross-hair accurately enough; gone were the days of Goldeneye and Die Hard Trilogy. While the original Xbox was still in its heyday I was still on PC at the time, squeezing the last days of Planetside with a decent population and playing Battlefield 2142 on occasion. By the time I made a return to console gaming the Xbox 360 had been out for 2 years. I shelled out purely for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. I found that the infrastructure was already highly extensive and highly efficient. This was the dawn of the FPS era. What the original Xbox had built upon Halo with Halo 2, the Xbox 360 brought Halo 3 and Gears of War to the table.
Halo and Xbox Live, Combat Evolved indeed.
With the FPS era, gaming finally shed itself of the 'games are for kids' tag, gaming was mature, it was bloody, and it was bloody good. Xbox Live excelled during this time; the ability to form parties and have party chat brought a social aspect to gaming never seen before and something that was only possible on Xbox 360. It brought teamwork and competition; it was just a good place to be. You didn't have to phone your friends, sit on MSN typing through the night or even figure out something to do with them, Xbox Live had all of that covered.
And so we sit here today at the beginning of a new generation only 3 months old and already with a user-base of over 8 million across all platforms. Gaming has changed a little bit with all the social and entertainment features that are must-haves now. However, at the core of it all, it's still about the games. We may collectively whine about some American kid on Call of Duty: Ghosts giving it large, but we do so in the tens of millions. I'll probably still be playing games until my body gives out, most likely my PS2 backlog of RPGs...But at least I thought gaming was cool before it was mainstream; sorry hipsters.
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