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By Verity Burns

Why gaming is no longer for geeks

The face of gaming has changed considerably over the years. Once seen as a pastime for kids and nerds, gaming is now something that involves the whole family. But how did this all happen?


Why gaming is no longer for geeks: Wii Fit (© Image © Press Association)

Your views on gaming will no doubt be influenced by how old you are. Some will remember Pong, the 1972 arcade classic from a bright young upstart called Atari. It was the first arcade game to see widespread success, setting the scene for the likes of Space Invaders and Pac-Man a few years later. It was a great, social time for gaming, something you shared with friends as they huddled around to watch your attempt for top score glory.

The 80s changed the dynamic somewhat, and video games started to move indoors. With the likes of the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, consoles became more affordable, and with the launch of the eight-bit NES, a whole lot better too. Simple arcade ports developed into deeper, genre-defining games, such as The Legend Of Zelda and Final Fantasy replacing relatively short times on arcade machines with long hours tackling complex levels. Gaming became a real hobby, and one you could do from the comfort of your own home.

The eight-bit NES heralded a brand-new era of 'next generation' consoles in the 90s, with the 16-bit Mega Drive, its smaller Master System sibling and the Super Nintendo, or SNES. And though games and their consoles were getting more sophisticated, it was around this time that kids and teenagers really took ownership of the gaming landscape. Locked away in their bedrooms where their mum couldn’t turn off their console and lose their progress, kids revelled in what are now some of the best-loved games of all time. The idea of your mum, or even your nan, asking to join you for a level of Super Mario Bros or Sonic the Hedgehog would just seem plain bonkers in the majority of households.

By the late 90s, Nintendo had found its niche in the lighthearted, family-friendly market - one it would work to its advantage in a way no one could have imagined, around 10 years later. Before it, though, was a period of the complete opposite - the birth of hardcore console gaming and the face-off between Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony's PlayStation 2. The two companies continue to battle for gaming supremacy today.

Why gaming is not for geeks: Xbox 360 (© Image © Press Association)

Microsoft’s Halo 2 in 2004 helped tip the scales in the Xbox’s favour, bringing with it an online gaming facility – a new service called Xbox Live. Now kids in the UK were able to play against kids across the world, opening up the possibilities for games developers and the pure size of games to come. Newspapers reported that computer games were making our children everything from fat to violent to antisocial, as more and more hours were clocked up in front of a computer screen.

Nintendo’s niche helped it to separate itself from all that. It had cashed in on a number of successful multiplayer games, like Mario Kart, but steered well clear of the hardcore genre. While the Xbox v PlayStation war raged on, it lagged behind in hardware and left online gaming alone, but was ultimately plotting its next step more wisely.

The birth of the Wii in 2006 took the gaming world by storm. Changing everything about gaming as we knew it, it made playing games a truly interactive, social experience once more - but this time for the entire family.

Like Pong all those years ago, it was a simple idea honed perfectly. In place of a joystick or keyboard, you now held a reimagined controller, hitting the ball back to your opponent as if you were actually holding a tennis racket in your hand. It was a revelation, and one that inspired a new generation of gamers.

Mums, dads, kids and grandparents could all enjoy the Wii - and they could enjoy it together. It was easy enough to do and the games were squarely aimed at a family environment, an environment that gaming had seemingly forgotten at the time. It was approachable, non-aggressive and above all, a lot of fun.

The Wii brought with it a new genre of 'excergaming' thanks to the Wii Fit. It saw you being given various cardio-based challenges to help you work up a sweat, tracking your movements via that controller. It was a huge hit - particularly with women, who made up a sector of the market gaming had failed to inspire on such a wide scale.

It kicked off a whole host of similar games and spin offs, inspiring a generation of people to get up and start moving. Gaming wasn’t about sitting in your pants anymore, it was about moving, jumping around and dancing in them (yes, we’re looking at you Wii Fit Girl). It was about having fun, while getting fit and active in the process, and who can grumble at that.

While hardcore gaming continued in the background, the Wiis sales figures spoke for themselves. Wii Fit sold over 21 million units, making it one of the biggest-selling games of all time. Its wide appeal was obvious, and Xbox wanted a piece of the pie.

The birth of Kinect took excergaming up a notch. Doing away with a controller altogether, the full-body camera took activity levels to new heights. No longer could you get away with flicking the controller a certain way to kid the console into thinking you were doing more than you were - gaming had become a serious full-body workout.

Gaming has had quite the journey. From the gaming arcades to the living room floor, no one could have predicted it would become your personal trainer in your own home - and all while having fun.

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