With the imminent arrival of the X-Box One and PlayStation 4 over the next week or so, one of the biggest features that have been pushed by Microsoft and Sony is the ability to share a recorded event of your gaming. And, in some instances, let someone else take over and play your game remotely too. But with this huge step in technology, I’ve been left wondering – why is this feature so popular? Where did it all come from?
The older of you may remember this scene: A darkened room, filled with arcade machines blaring their respective theme tunes to entice the bystanders to part with their pocket money. Barstools parked near the more popular of the black-boxed behemoths, and the smell of overheated circuits and burning bright screens, mixing with second hand cigarette smoke that drifted over the over-18s partition that led to the gambling machines. An ashtray or two was visible on the dashboard beside the older boys who played the racing games. The highscores drifted up, naming the bravest (and richest) players who had etched their legendary deeds until the machine was next turned off.
It’s a scene from my childhood, in an arcade called “Ned’s”, which sat near my grandmothers house in Castleblaney – a 2 mile town on the border of Northern Ireland, with more pubs and chip shops than there were houses. And like all arcades, it became a haven away from family, letting me indulge in my favorite past-time – playing “cutting edge” games. Through frequent visits, my brother and I were able to complete the entire story of “Sunset Riders” with just 1 credit (10p!) and spend a good 45 minutes away from the distractions of a normal 12 year old’s life.
However, like all things, money would run out, and the trek home with empty pockets loomed. To prolong the long walk back, talking all the way about strategies we would try to adopt next time, we would stand by and watch other guys playing out favorite games too. There were the regular features ; The long-haired guy who could beat Street Fighter 2 with one credit playing as Ryu, or Guile if he was feeling brave. The heavy set fella who would park himself in Top Gun, and would demonstrate lightning fast reflexes – but remarked loudly on the “cheating” of the game having too many heat-seeker missiles when he died. The two kids who were barely tall enough to look at the full length of the Addams Family Pinball machine, but would still balance precariously on a barstool to take each life in turn. Time flowed fast and freely watching these guys play, just as much as it did when my brother and I played, and so long as we stayed quiet and didn’t distract anyone, we could play vicariously through them. Their victories were our victories, in a way. Sometimes, they’d even walk away on the highscore screen in a barely contained rage, and we could steal their glory by putting in our 3 initials instead.
In this modern generation, our beloved Arcades have dwindled away, replaced by games of luck and chance to win cash instead. They lure the older men and women in, with promises of an alternative to bingo and cash prizes that could maybe pay for all their wants. Sitting with cups of coins and complimentry tea (trying not to mix them up) the white dials spin cherries, watermelons and stars in front of their bifocal glasses, while our beloved black arcade boxes still give off enough heat to keep them warm and relaxed.
But those who grew up with a Playstation, X-Box, PC or Nintendo in their bedroom don’t need those darkened rooms anymore. Cutting edge gaming lies just at their fingertips. The internet has replaced strategy guides and provided an unprecedented access to every little tidbit of news about your favorite titles and developers. Enthusiastic gamers, myself included, probably spend about 30 minutes each morning just checking to see if any news has been released about a game that’s been on our radar for a while. And as the game’s release date comes ever closer, the likes of YouTube becomes filled with previews and features showing you just how wonderful this new game could be. The Hype machine lies just beyond our reach, reminding us what the next big thing is. This modern generation doesn’t need a shoulder to watch over any more. We invite each other to see what we see, and think what we think through commentaries.
Many people could list other gamers that they’ve never met, but have experienced their highs and lows with. Personally, I’m a big fan of Assassin’s Creed and World of Warcraft, so have spent my breakfasts watching the likes of Subject 17, Shemnue36, Rainie, and TotalBiscuit playing the games I wish I was playing. It’s like sitting with your old friend in their own personal arcade, and each video leaves you with smiles, as you think up your own strategies and approaches you’ll take when you finally have your chance to play that game too.
I would even go so far as to say it’s the same enthusiasm that football fans have when they watch their favourite team playing. It doesn’t matter too much about the win or loss, which new ‘characters’ we’ll see in this new season, who’s the manager behind it all. We’ll get to share our journeys together, away from that darkened smokey room. Technology is simply trying to show us how we’re not banished to our bedrooms anymore. It’s something which people worry about, thinking just how much should we share. But I welcome the change. We just don’t have to be alone in our Nerdiness any more. Unless we want to!