Look, we as gamers just essentially still love toys, don’t we?
No matter how gracefully we age and succumb to a nine-to-five capitalist regime: a constant cycle of morning Cornflakes and Canderel, lunchtime report filings and evening commutes we still love toys. That’s why, as video game enthusiasts, we feel a sense of creeping anxiety when certain releases hit a mainstream audience. “No, you can’t have them. They’re ours,” we internally scream, threatening to explode like a badly-constructed Japanese power plant. “Leave them to the nerds. You’ve already taken the Stussy and Vans apparel from the skateboarders, Sir Mainstream, don’t take the video games from us!” Just kidding, we’re not all that mad. Except maybe Dark Souls fans. KIDDING AGAIN.
Video games have only started becoming a widely available and accessible medium for culture consumers for around ten years, now. This list doesn’t necessarily mean or include best-selling video games, but instead singular releases that have received huge mainstream coverage and reception over the years. So, if you’re still here and haven’t jumped to the comments section already, here are 8 video games that managed to hit the mainstream.
Swedish game developer Markus Persson must sit down some mornings and think, “well, I’ve done alright, haven’t I?” Because, even if only for a brief moment, Minecraft was literally everywhere.
Seriously, it was like the publishers were trying to rival Tetris for most ports of a game to last-gen, current-gen and future-gen platforms. Minecraft seemed to have hopped onto more platforms than Mario and Luigi at one time. What is probably most satisfying about Mojang and 4J Studios’ release is that the core concept is so simple. 3D, procedurally generated worlds, with building, exploration, resource gathering and combat mechanics. Kind of like No Man’s Sky, but people actually enjoyed Minecraft (more on that later).
Also, because Minecraft found itself available to users of Android and iOS, it also allowed them to appeal to a younger audience, who, at times, in a year of violent shooters and mature themed narratives, struggle to find a suitable video game that they can enjoy. Its polygon-sharpness and playful attitude may not be for everyone, but it was still a win for the mainstream.
2. Pokémon GO
Oh, nostalgia. Feels good doesn’t it? Nostalgia is that fuzzy feeling, the rose-coloured screen put in front of old things that are actually a bit shit. It’s like the hallucinations in Trainspotting, and like a Class-A drug Pokémon is an addictive franchise indulged in by a fervent fan base across the globe.
Pokémon GO took the leap to a fully mobile platform and it seemed to be taking over the world quicker than barista-style coffee or American foreign policy. It was a nice sunny day and you just returned from a good two-hour hunt for new Pokémon to add to your increasing library. Your girlfriend/husband/friend/dog walked through the door and asked, “oh, so what’s this new Pokémon GO thing? It looks interesting, I may try it”. Oh no. Oh dear.
Nintendo had broken through to REAL PEOPLE who don’t normally play video games. You calmly assure your wife/lodger/cat that it’s probably not for them. Normalcy resumes. Video games are for impassioned, yet myopic nerds who wear giant bifocals and create over-sexualised Overwatch fan art, aren’t they? Not for anyone who wants to indulge in escapism similar to watching a movie or reading a book. Or anyone wishing to express their creativity, talk with friends or just have fun. Right?
3. No Man’s Sky
When exploring the 18 quintillion planets in No Man’s Sky, you might have come across the expectations of its bloodthirsty fans. Since the announcement of Hello Games’ juggernaut two hundred years ago, the whole ethos, idea and content of the game was seen to be driven by the fans expectations themselves. Rather than listening to what Sean Murray and his team had to say about their own game, some fans just took their imaginations, strapped them to a rocket like Sid from Toy Story and sent them hurtling upwards on a vertical indefinite trajectory.
The result was a bit of a mess for the team in Guildford. One positive was that their game received an ordinate amount of interest and mainstream media coverage, resulting in a high number of sales (the BBC even did a live broadcast tour of the studio in Surrey days before its release). With future patches due to diversify, modify or just simply change the content of the game, the journey of No Man’s Sky is still not over. Not for Hello Games, at least.
4. FIFA 10
We know, the FIFA games had been around for years before 2010 was released. But 10 marked an epoch in EA’s franchise history for two simple, yet undeniable reasons. Konami’s PES was the critical and commercial darling of the virtual footballing world until FIFA 2010 was released.
10 changed the game and truly launched FIFA into the mainstream as the football video game. It had better reviews and it sold more copies than PES – EA finally beat Konami at the beautiful game. 2010 saw the franchise sell over a hundred million copies and still, to this day, EA house the trophy of Best Football Franchise. Until next year, maybe.
5. COD: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty is now, of course, one of those huge gaming franchises that can attract the voice and motion capture talent of leading names such as Kevin Spacey. Spacey isn’t exactly a guy to pop in any little ‘ol indie game now is he?
When it made the leap to a modern-day setting and shifted away from the frontlines of WW2 Europe to a Middle-Eastern, Gulf-War inspired setting in Modern Warfare is when the franchise became what it is known as today. Modern Warfare, building on the strong groundwork of Bungie’s Halo series, popularized the online multiplayer experience for console shooters. There was also the possibility of being insulted by 12-year olds in the U.S, jacked up on Mountain Dew and Lucky Charms, over your gaming headset. Online friendships are delightful. Swings and roundabouts.
6. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Rockstar have always managed to refuel the games industry when it’s been in the need of a good push. A wide audience outside of the games industry – even far from it – know who Rockstar is and what they do.
The remit has been fully established in the mainstream for over a decade now. Even if that acknowledgment is as as simple as, “oh, of course. They’re the “GTA guys.”” Their output is one which is not far from the hands of everyday consumers of popular culture. It’s a powerful message that Rockstar are close to, if not, a global phenomenon. At least in the western hemisphere.
But, San Andreas, their lauded entry in the GTA canon from 2004, reached prominence in mainstream coverage because of something a little naughty. The Hot Coffee Mod, which sounds innocent enough but is actually about, well, shagging, innit?
Rockstar were a little silly and forget to completely erase the code of an abandoned mini-game that modding support allowed players of the Windows port of San Andreas to gain access to. Dirty PC gamers, eh? The mini-game allowed the player to perform sexual duties to an in-game girlfriend of their choice. The mainstream acknowledgment of the controversy even reached the offices of the U.S congress in which many politicians commented on restricting the sort of adult content present in many widely-purchased releases. It also provoked the regular ire of attorney Jack Thompson. He isn’t the biggest fanatic of video games, as we know.
7. Wii Sports
Nintendo are one of the biggest and most-fascinating companies in the world. They also have one of the most dedicated and loving audiences in the entire industry. They could delay the Switch to 2020 and their fans would still wait patiently; Cheshire grins awash their faces.
When Nintendo released the Wii, they certainly wanted their fans to be happy. But the console was meant to be accessible to everyone, reaching the homes of many consumers as possible. Wii Sports – a launch title bundled in when the console was released – was a game that made simple use of the kinetic controllers that the Wii was known for and made videogame living-room fun that anybody could join in with.
Based around five simple sports: boxing, bowling, golf, tennis and baseball, the package sold so many copies that it now holds a distinction of one of the most successful video games of all time. Just remember to strap on that controller or the TV and the family dog gets an unwanted whack.
When Allan Alcorn and Nolan Bushnell finished the code for a simple game back in early 1970’s California, I wonder what they thought about the future of video games. While the Lords of Dogtown flew up and down half-pipes and drained swimming pools, popularizing skateboarding culture in Venice Beach, Alcorn and Bushnell were hard at work across the state in Sunnyvale in the recently established Atari offices.
It’s pretty much agreed that Pong served as one – if not the definite – blueprint for the future development of video games. Hell, a cabinet playing the game even sits in the Neville Public Museum of Brown County. Atari and their blueprint are seminal. They mark one start point of video game development. Pong created a benchmark for a new medium that, apart from a brief crash in the market from 1983 has continued to grow in popularity ever since. You can’t get much more mainstream that.
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