A couple decades after these recovered gems had been at the height of their financial and cultural worth, they were finally devalued enough that they were now available to those without the means to spend lavishly on entertainment. The boys didn't even notice that I was watching. I recognized very well the rapt faces, eyes wide and mouths loosely open in those tense moments, leaping toward the still-unseen goal just beyond the right edge of the screen.
There is a cultural myopia to Western perceptions of what videogames are, and can be. Ours is a culture built around hierarchal legitimacy that most celebrates the event-driven, spectacle-oriented console game. While we've slumbered in the polygonal cocoon of premium console gaming, large parts of the world have noted this wondrous new medium and, within the constraints of their own societies, found ways to make it relevant to them.
Some game companies have begun to explore ways of reaching people who live beyond the developed zones of Japan, North America, and Europe. In 2003, Nintendo offered a condensed home version of the N64 to the Chinese market in the form of the iQue. It offered old games and hardware at a reduced price, a now discontinued attempt to compete against the pirated compilation market dominated by ROM hackers. Though the attempt failed, the general model is one that is still being exploited by low-end knock-off manufacturers across the developing world.
EA has invested in the migration of its brands into modular online experiences, like those heavily favored by the internet cultures of South Korea, China, India, and the countries on the Pacific Rim. Now Western gamers are being offered online versions of Need for Speed, FIFA, Tiger Woods Golf, and Battlefield Heroes. Companies like Zynga and Playfish have made a strong case that Facebook can be used as a de facto game console, while Gameloft, ngmoco, and a host of independent developers have begun to vindicate mobile gaming as a legitimate pastime.
Console gaming will never go away. It is to videogames what the movie theater is to filmed entertainment. It will continue to host the medium's most spectacular and technically sophisticated works. In the same way that the advance of broadcast television, pay cable, and internet distribution eventually filled out the medium of film to make it accessible and relevant to the entire world, so too will the environment that surrounds console gaming continue to expand in ways that will include more and more people.
In the countries console gaming has been unable to reach, piracy has reigned. I've taken part in it. What's worth remembering is that piracy isn't simply an act of despotic criminality; it's also an act of embrasure. A Chinese construction worker spending his off hours playing a hacked version of Warcraft III or a barefoot Malagasy boy guiding Mario through the Mushroom Kingdom; these aren't encroachments on intellectual property rights, but an affirmation that yes, games are universal. They can speak to everyone. In the coming years, we'll profit most in finding ways to make games for, by, and about the entire world. And by opening the medium to the entirety of the human race, we will inevitably discover a truer appreciation for that exchange between player and creator, the emergent conversation between fingers, minds, and consequences.
Michael Thomsen is a writer in New York. His work has appeared on the ABC World News Webcast, IGN, Nerve, Edge, Gamasutra and more. You can follow him at his blog (www.manoamondo.com).