Legendary journalist Tom Brokaw coined the term “the Greatest Generation” in 1998 to describe what he felt was the most important generation in American history. What generation deserves that tag in video gaming history seems to be up for debate.
Over the past several years I have seen and dealt with players who will put the topic up for constant debate. I have seen classic arcade gamers refer to anything console as “lame” and unimportant in comparison, even going so far as to note the NES as the death of their generation instead of the massive industry crash years before it. I have seen modern gamers question the loyalty of the classic gaming fans and I’ve seen every generation inbetween sing the virtues of their preferred generations of gaming.
Last Friday’s article noting that all three modern consoles have now surpassed the Nintendo Entertainment System in lifetime sales figures saw some pro-NES fans go on the defensive, even acting as if the statistics were being used to somehow downplay the importance of the NES or claim modern console superiority. A puzzling yet interesting response that led me to open the floor up for debate on this very topic.
What do you think is the “Greatest Generation” in video gaming? To help with the discussion I’ve broken down the generations below.
* Pre-History Era (pre-1971) – Games such as Spacewar proved popular on major university campuses, but no consumer video game products existed yet.
* Consumer Era (1971-1977) – Video games became available to consumers in both coin-op form and home products that could be hooked up to television sets. Few games truly caught on during this time, however.
* Boom Era (1978-1983) – Video games arrived in a big way starting with Space Invaders and went deep into the mainstream in both coin-op and home console form. Arcade machines set sales records that still stand today. However, this generation was unable to sustain itself. After sliding in 1982 the industry began an unstoppable downward spiral in 1983.
* Crash Era (1984-1986) – The video game briefly joins the list of dead fads as most arcade locations close and retailers refuse to carry any video game products. Personal computer gaming managed to thrive. The Nintendo Entertainment System came along toward the end of this era and gained some steam…
* NES Era (1987-1990) – Nintendo’s console dominated the home console scene while surviving arcade locations stabilized behind strong titles not yet available for home play. While the NES manages to more than double the lifetime sales of the Atari 2600, other consoles struggle. Handheld gaming comes to be, starting with Nintendo’s GameBoy. Video games are still considered “toys” by the media as the decade ends.
* Nineties Era (1991-1999) – The 16-bit console wars split the gaming audience between Nintendo and Sega but increase the overall scale of the industry. Arcades see a semi-comeback behind popular fighting and sports titles. Consumers were unable to keep up with the majority of new console product, however, until Sony’s PlayStation comes along, becoming the first console in history to sell more than 100 million units.
* Millenium Generation (2000-2006) – The PlayStation 2 comes out to product shortages and an eBay frenzy, eventually trumping the lifetime sales of the first PlayStation. Microsoft’s XBox brings new blood into the marketplace while Sega bows out. Nintendo finally moves on with the introduction of new handhelds, continuing their dominance in that area but struggling to regain the top spot with traditional consoles. Video games leave consumer toy labels into electronics and entertainment labels.
* Modern Generation (2007-present) – The Nintendo Wii brings the Big N back to the top of the traditional console market with motion control. The PlayStation 3 stumbles out of the gate but helps Sony’s Blu Ray win the disc format war. The XBox 360 brings Microsoft ahead of Sony in the console race. The Nintendo DS blows past the lifetime GameBoy sales numbers while all three traditional consoles reach the top five best selling consoles ever. Numerous titles break all-time gaming sales figures.