Video games were a polarising force in most households when I was growing up. In the 1990s, as I remember it, children and young adults were all too engaged in gaming. Exasperated parents, meanwhile, attempted drilling better sense into their offspring. With controllers in hand, they stared at an idiot box for hours on end. And while they kept busy shooting a virtual duck or attempting to rescue a princess, the world passed by.
I, for one, spent endless hours trying to save this princess in distress, all while dodging a fire spewing dragon. If you haven’t already guessed, it was the ever popular Super Mario game. I even had a mentor — my younger sister. Her skills were extraordinary, prompting our mother to call her Mario Rahman. While my sister and I fought often, we usually cooperated when it came to video games. This was probably because a fight would mean being asked to switch off the television.
A brief history
Sanders Associates, Inc were possibly the pioneers of video games. The technology company developed a gaming system—that could be played on a television—as early as 1967. This was almost two decades before TVs were introduced in India. A decade later, in 1977, Atari launched the video computer system. This is likely the console that most will recollect from the early days when video games started becoming popular. The Atari 2600, as it was commonly known, featured joysticks and offered the option of using interchangeable gaming cartridges. My earliest memories of video games date to playing on an Atari console.
The early 1980s were marked by a crash in the video game industry, and several manufacturers ceased operations. But it was also around this time that Nintendo Entertainment System was launched in the US, in 1985. Nintendo developed the Super Mario franchise. This console ushered in several innovations for its time including improved graphics, more vivid colours and imagery, and also better sound and gameplay.
In the mid-90s, Sony started dominating the market. Its PlayStation 2 (PS2) offering—at the turn of the millennium—went on to become the best-selling gaming console of all time. Half a decade later, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo ushered in the era of high-definition gaming. Around this time, ‘video game parlours’ sprouted in most towns and cities in India. Road Rash was a popular PS2 game and parlours mostly charged about INR60 per hour. During outings as boarding school students, gaming enthusiasts would rush to reserve a spot in one of these gaming parlours.
The memorable ones
In my case, I always found it better value to spend my pocket money on food than gaming. But when holidays came around, I would look forward to uninterrupted gaming time. In fact, I looked forward to gaming sessions after lunch because our father would join in. He loved Tetris. Had it not been for mother, we’d probably have spent way more screen time than we already did. It was also no coincidence that I began wearing glasses the same year we received our first gaming console.
While Super Mario was a favourite, there were several other engaging alternatives. I also spent considerable time riding a bike in Excite Bike. It was a motocross circuit with numerous ramps that would launch my on screen avatar into the air. Pressing another button on the controller ensured higher speeds but at the cost of overheating the engine.
Then, there was Kung Fu. The background score is still fresh on my mind. Try as I did, I never made it past stage four that had an opponent who could fly. I also remember pulling off a fluke every so often — a flying kick. I never figured how I did it but the combination of button presses sometimes lined up, just like that.
Video games in this era were published in cartridges or cassettes. And these cassettes would usually have a ridiculous sales script that read “999,999 games in 1”. It really was just a bait because there would be no more than ten or twelve games. The many stages of each game were probably included in the “999,999” count.
In 2000, my parents were going to visit the UK. When they asked me what I wanted, I quickly announced, “a PS2”. However, when they returned, there was no Playstation because mother had overruled the decision. Although I was disappointed then, it stood me in good stead. As a parent myself now, I would have done the same.
Gaming is a massive industry
Once I finished middle school, I was already losing interest in gaming. And first person shooter games did not quite appeal to me. However, when we received our first computer, we received a complimentary copy of Max Payne. Although it involved shooting, it had a compelling storyline. I was hooked to it for maybe a month or two, and I even completed the entire game. And then a friend shared with me a copy of Quake 3. This game, I felt, made me anxious. Each time I played it, I would be left feeling uneasy. This, for me, was my final stint with gaming.
In the years since, video gaming has become a mutli-billion dollar industry. It is larger than Hollywood and Bollywood combined. There is a massive breed out there called professional gamers; their ‘9 to 5’ routine is to game all day long. Mobile gaming, in particular, has become so huge that there are currently some 2.8 billion players worldwide. Come to think of it, almost a third of the total global population comprise avid gamers.
I enjoy observing the gaming industry and how it has grown even larger on account of the pandemic. In 2019, I wrote a detailed white paper on the gaming industry for a major tech company. Meanwhile, my daughter insists I join her in mobile gaming. I am, therefore, trying to make sense of this game laden with colourful unicorns. The only fly in the ointment is the frequent prompt to purchase an overpriced unicorn. “It has special powers,” Zarah says.