Videogames in Pop-culture
Videogame culture: it’s a term that gets thrown around a lot these days and it’s surprisingly widespread. From Atari’s Pong to Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. to Microsoft’s Halo, we see these pop-culture icons popping up nearly everywhere we look. But what is it about the little red plumber or the humble white paddle that we love so much? Well it’s an interesting question and there’s no single answer but I’m going to try and get to the bottom of it anyway!
Videogames have been around since the early days of digital computing itself. One of the earliest known examples was called a “Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device” and that stretches back to 1947 when its patent was filed. The game was based around vector-graphics that represented a missile that was fired at targets on a screen.
Videogames have come a long way since this one, although they didn’t really hit their popularity streak until 1972 when game manufacturer Atari developed and released a game called Pong. Pong is a game that needs no introduction, and was so popular that Atari went on to release home versions of it and create the game industry we know today.
One of the best known videogame systems in history was the Nintendo Entertainment System. The NES is by far the most well-known classic videogame system that enveloped the childhoods of much of the world today. When it was released in the early 1980s it brought with it new worlds and franchises to explore like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., and Metroid. The NES launched Nintendo into global fame and success, and stole a place in the hearts of gamers everywhere. These days you can’t go a day without seeing a reference or kindly nod at the Mario theme song or a piece of Zelda fanfare.
But something that has skyrocketed in success and popularity like videogames can often hit some nerves and instil fear. As with all new technologies videogames have been at the forefront of cultural fear and panic. Fear-mongering is all too common and it’s not uncommon to hear wild claims that videogames are ruining our youth or causing social problems, or my personal favourite: causing violence. This fear has led to widespread banning of games and censorship. For instance in 2008, Bethesda Softworks released their highly anticipated game Fallout 3 to critical acclaim, but the game was still censored to remove “realistic visual representations of drugs and their delivery method” by the Australian Classification Board. The key importance here is that a game was censored for depicting the use of drugs in a realistic manner, whereas countless films are allowed to do the same without the same consequences.
Such anti-videogame outcry is to be expected as videogames take centre-stage in our modern culture. The videogame industry is well known to be the fastest growing industry in the world and with it comes its massive influence. Everywhere you look you see advertisements for new games, new consoles and new pop-culture icons.
But just what is it about videogames that make them so recognisable? Why is it that almost no one can hum the tune to Chris Brown’s new hit single but everyone can hum the tune to World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros.? This may also be because Chris Brown sucks arse, but what is it about that little red plumber that has kept him in the spotlight for so long?
Nintendo is well known for creating family-friendly gaming environments with lovable characters that stick with people for the rest of their lives. We all have our own favourite gaming icon that has stuck with us for years as we religiously go to the store to purchase their new title, good or bad.
I think it’s a mixture of a few different things. Nintendo owes its success to its library of child-friendly games. Take a look at the 8-bit and 16-bit console eras that Nintendo dominated and what do you see? Colour? Positivity? Cartoony characters? These are the very same things that are found in toys and cartoons that are marketed to children. We spend our childhood growing up with these characters and we form a bond with them like our parents would have formed with their favourite wooden horse or Teddy bear.
Just like the adult who still has their favourite Doll or Action figure, we keep our favourite parts of our childhood as well. My earliest videogame memories are of Super Mario Land on the Gameboy and of Pokémon Red and Gold; it’s not surprise to me that I still play Pokémon to this day and still support Nintendo’s products with every dollar of my wallet.
Ask yourself: what character do you love from gaming? I guarantee there is one even if it isn’t from Nintendo; it could be Sonic the Hedgehog or Pac-man or even the line-piece from Tetris. We don’t abandon our childhoods as we reach adulthood; we keep them with us, close to our hearts. The success of the graphic novel series of Scott Pilgrim is a testament to this. The books are filled with references to Zelda, Mario, Sonic and a plethora of other videogame references. It was only in October of 2012 that Ohio State University did a tribute to Space Invaders, Halo and Pokémon during the halftime show (which is awesome, check it out below).
With a new generation of consoles ready to take the stage late this year we’re undoubtedly going to see new franchises that burrow their way into the childhoods of our children and sooner or later they themselves are going to dominate pop-culture. The average age of a gamer is 37 today and as we all get older this age can only increase. Meanwhile children are being born into the world of gaming so the world’s population of gamers can be expected to increase as well. Not only are gamers themselves increasing in popularity but the eSports scene is getting bigger and bigger. League of Legends (LoL) currently has over 12 million players each day and is continuously growing. As LoL is directly connected to the eSports scene and the two grow in parallel.
As technology becomes more widespread so will games. Gaming has already pierced the bubble of pop-culture and is only going to dominate it further as the years go by. Welcome to the wide world of gaming culture. Enjoy your stay.