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Are We in A Golden Age of Video Games Or Is It All Just The Same?

OMG October 27, 2017 By Vincent

Hollywood had it, comic books had it, TV had it (and is arguably still going through it), but the golden age of video gaming is still up for debate and with the way technology in the field persistently evolves, it is kind of hard to judge one generation against the next but perhaps the time has come to look at the era we are currently in and say, 'this looks pretty good.' 

That being said, we also live in a time of an unprecedented amount of sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots so are we living in the golden age, is it yet to come or did it pass us by without any of us knowing?

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First off, we must define the parameters in which something can be classed as 'the golden age', and typically this comes down to consumption. For Hollywood, it's golden age was said to have begun in the late 1920's, during the end of the silent film era, and continued through the late 1950's with the 1930s being its peak as Hollywood became one of the most visible businesses in America, and most people were attending films at least once a week. 

Comic books had their moment from the late 1980s to circa 1950s when the introduction and expansion of the superhero genre became part of the everyday pop-culture lexicon through such well-known characters as Superman and Batman etc. and the popularity of the medium exploded.  Depending on who you talk to, TV has two or three golden ages with each advancement in technology being at their core, with the 1950s being the first of these thanks to televisions becoming prevalent throughout most homes. 

Then, again in the 1980s and 90s due to cable television bringing a different approach to viewing habits, many now argue that we are currently in the third wave of golden age television as streaming services and a 'binge-watch' culture has brought us more high-quality, drama-led programming so is it all about numbers? Well, yes and no.

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A 'golden-age' does have to have an increased audience otherwise, no matter what you are producing, if the same amount or fewer people see or acknowledge it, it can't really have been judged to have made a greater impact but numbers alone do not make something great, there has to be a cultural shift, a change in the way it is viewed and this is what makes the phenomenon a little trickier. 

With video games, there was a definitive golden era for arcades from around 1978 to 1990 when the coin-operated machines peaked as they became a legitimate entertainment option for a night out and started to break into the mainstream consciousness but this then tailed off as home console systems broke into the market and nowadays you'd be hard pushed to find an arcade anywhere. So can this era of the 90s be considered the golden age for gamers? It certainly has the ingredients for it with a change in technology and a growing market, but it might not quite live up to expectations.

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Home consoles have been around since the 1960s, but by the 90s they were the predominant force in video gaming and could compete in terms of power with the arcade machines, but they were also largely still using a lot of arcade technology and development to try and bring the same experience to your living room, so the technological leaps and bounds were yet to happen. It certainly was a stepping stone to bigger and bolder things but to cast it as a golden age may be a step too far. Bear in mind, being a gamer was still a fairly niche tag to label yourself with at this point in time.

Moving towards the later 90s and the new millennium, video games had punched their way into other mediums, with Sonic the Hedgehog having his own range of comics books, Earthworm Jim was a wacky cartoon TV series and there were all sorts of film spin-offs and franchises built around video games including such heavyweights as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The technology was moving further forward, but home consoles were still operating on the same principle they always had been. Come the latter part of the noughties, Nintendo stepped up to change this.

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Nintendo has long thrived by trying to push the envelope forward  in terms of technological advancements, and sometimes this has worked for them (Wii, Switch etc.) and sometimes it has hurt them considerably (Wii U, The Virtual Boy etc.) and yet they still persevere because they have seen how sitting back on their laurels can hurt other companies, i.e. Sega. 

But by 2006, Nintendo firmly and finally confirmed gaming as a family past time with its innovative Wii using motion control technology and media aimed specifically at first time or non-gamers and indeed broke down the barriers and mystique that had somehow surrounded video games for so long. This lead to an even greater level of ease pervading through the industry as it tried to scramble for a piece of this new market share that had suddenly opened up whilst the advent of smartphones made gamers of us all as we picked up the computers in our pockets to while away the minutes on the train.

Here we saw the expansion of players and had the technological push but the quality was a little sub-par, these games were often simplified versions of previous franchises or entry-level introductions to the market for older or younger generations who were previously considered non-gamers. It laid the groundwork for something special but simply did not execute in terms of the established market base.

So now, could we finally be entering the long sought after El Dorado of the golden age of gaming? Technological innovations continue to come from Nintendo with their home-come-portable console the Switch, and the market remains from their Wii venture opening it up with the Switch actually on course to outstrip sales of its predecessor as well as Microsoft and Sony still being massive competitors in the market and having healthy sales themselves. There is also a push for greater use of Virtual Reality tech on all sides so that just leaves the quality aspect to come through.

Initial inspection would suggest we certainly are within the realms of the best period in which quality games exist, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild was released earlier this year to such massive acclaim many consider it one of the best games of all time and yesterday Super Mario Odyssey opened to such praise it is on course to be the highest rated game ever. 

We are also due to see the much anticipated Red Dead Redemption sequel come next year with critics and commentators already proclaiming 2017 the best year for gaming ever, even before we start to see the Christmas rush of titles , but you may notice something about all of those games I've previously mentioned...they are all from pre-existing franchises.

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We've written about whether nostalgia is killing or curing video games already (which you can read by clicking here) but the point is that many of these games that are being released are considered so good because they are taking pre-existing franchises and aspects of gaming and honing and refining them.

There is nothing wrong with that at all but can it truly be considered a golden age if we lack original content? Sonic The Hedgehog's lauded title this year, Sonic Mania, was essentially a fan-made homage to his previous work while Wolfenstein II is actually the eleventh game in the series so despite their critical and commercial successes they are not really new. There have been some great games of original work too but often they are too few and far between the many, many recognizable names we see time and time again on the shelves. 

Perhaps this is a picky way of looking at it but can anything be considered the golden age, the pinnacle of its time in the spotlight, if it is just rehashing. Yes, it is going back to things that worked and making them better and smoothing out the rough edges to make perfection of what was already there but maybe we need something really, truly new in feel to declare it a new golden era.


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