I am here today to hang my head in shame and admit that I am a veteran of one of the most pointlessly futile wars ever waged. The Console Wars. Or rather, The My Gaming Machine is Better than Yours Wars, as let’s face it, these battles were being waged long before the birth of the console.
For myself I unknowingly enlisted when I was aged around ten or eleven. I had just become the proud owner of a Spectrum+, yep, the bad boy with the plastic keys where once they were rubber. Meanwhile my best friend had acquired an Amstrad. Little did we know but we were now fresh faced troops in the battle for video game supremacy.
Us Speccy owners were of course the good guys, the Solos and Skywalkers facing off against the Vaders, Jabbas and Alan Sugars across the lush green of the distant planet of Endor…okay, arguing in bedrooms and playgrounds up and down the country but you get the gist.
Now my best mate, Paul, and myself were no strangers to a good old argument. Liverpool v Man Utd was usually the theme, again I was on the side of the good guys from Merseyside, but it sometimes branched out into other areas and occasionally spilled over into mild violence. I’ll never forget the Subbutteo riots of ’85 where seven players required immediate superglue attention, the floodlights went over and our Mums got mightily pissed off. But even that paled into insignificance when side by side with the absolute aggression we’d each build to when defending our gaming machine of choice.
We fell out over it time and time again. Blood brothers since nursery separated by who’s version of Rambo: The Videogame was better.
It was, and still is, quite remarkable the amount of venom one can spit when defending a piece of plastic that has been elevated to a god-like status in its owners eyes. I was guilty of it during my Spectrum days, and it continued into what became the Console Wars proper. Megadrive vs SNES, Saturn vs Playstation and on and on. Pity the poor guy who had the Atari Jaguar, but guaranteed they would have tried their best to convince anyone who would listen that it was the pinnacle of gaming. It was just what we did.
This unwavering backing of one console above all others is something that still goes on today. I myself have moved away from it and now embrace every gaming platform as an opportunity for further adventures in pixel land. But, I do sometimes wonder why I was so anti every other console bar whatever I owned. And I think it boils down to fear.
What the Spectrum and I guess the Vic20 before it delivered was something that excited me. Video games moved from the arcade into the living room. How amazing! Now in the early days the fights between friends regarding Spectrum and Commodore and Amstrad and even, Dragon, were no different from the arguments over football teams and superheroes. We all had our favourites and they were best no matter what logical arguments came our way. But as I grew older my viewpoint shifted, and it was shaped by the demise of various machines.
I watched in awe at breakfast TV one morning as the presenters got to grips with a golf game on a new machine called the, 3DO. It looked incredible, I wanted one, this had to be the future, the 3DO died a death. Then on much loved and always missed evening TV show, Gamesmaster, Dominik Diamond unveiled the Aliens vs Predator game for Atari Jaguar, it looked incredible, I wanted one, and then the Jaguar too died a death, crushed under the weight of Sega and Sony.
I had avoided both machines but given the chance would have snapped them up in a heartbeat. And then suffered the heartbreak of my console becoming redundant for the company and the cord being cut, leaving the Jaguar, the 3DO and all those who had invested heavily adrift in a sea of shitty games as the company liner sailed for richer shores.
And then it happened to me. I invested in the Sega Dreamcast. A great machine, fantastic games and a bright future ahead. And then, three months after I picked up the Dreamcast, Sega rang time on its console, declaring there would be no new games coming out for it. I was gutted, but it hammered home the reason Paul and myself, and I’m guessing so many others will go to war for their console of choice. Because deep down we’re terrified that it will flop and we’ll be left on the gaming sidelines with a machine that has lost its mojo, its audience and its gaming future.
I fought my case for the Xbox against Playstation owners long and fierce, purely because the thought of Microsoft pulling the plug early made my blood run cold. It now felt like a genuine possibility. I’d been there and it was a shitty place to be.
When video games play a big role in your life, or when they have been a big part of your past, it’s easy to worry about losing it. And I think I understand that in myself now. To take my video games away as a kid would have hurt, to have the machine fail like the 3DO or the Jaguar or the Dreamcast did, for the player who has invested so much time and love into the platform, is a huge blow to take. And so, on the back of that fear, we march into the battlefields of The Console Wars without realising we’re actually all on the same side, fighting for the same goal. The side of video games themselves, the goal of their continued place in homes across the globe, and the survival of the little guys who make the indie games, the big guys who make the triple A titles, and of course the huge beasts who make our consoles.
Because without them the world would be a much duller place.
Oh, and Paul, if you ever read this, Rambo on the Spectrum was definitely better than it was on the Amstrad.