Games consoles have a colourful history, but they only really rose into the public consciousness in the ‘80s with the NES – the original Nintendo system. ‘Nintendo’ became a word meaning ‘video game’, and the Mario character became a worldwide sensation.
Since then, games consoles have been an unstoppable industry. Nintendo dominated for years with the NES, the Super NES and the portable Game Boy systems, only to have its dominance threatened by Sony’s Playstation and later Playstation 2 and Portable Playstation (PSP). Despite the fact that the history of mass-market games consoles only really stretches back two decades or so, there have been dozens of consoles in this time, and all-out wars to capture the market. The quality of graphics has improved amazingly in this time – try looking at the original Mario next to a modern game like Grand Theft Auto or Halo – although it is a matter of some debate whether gameplay (the ‘fun factor’) has improved to match.
Probably the biggest thing in games consoles today is the shift towards online gaming, led by Microsoft’s Xbox Live service. Online gaming allows people to play against each other all over the world using nothing more than a TV, a console, an Internet connection, and occasionally a headset to shout insults at each other.
All that could be about to change, however, as Sony prepares to launch the Playstation 3, and Nintendo works on the Wii. The two consoles are set to fight it out over the next few years, with the PS3 taking the position of being very expensive with extremely good graphics, and the Wii being more basic and cheaper, but trying to put the focus back on fun. The Internet is buzzing with Wii supporters who remember the Nintendo games of their youth, and hope for a return to simple, fun games, although it seems unlikely that the battle will be won that easily.