My son, J, tends to define people by what generation they are, not baby boomers or generation x, but what video game system they played when they were growing up! As a child of the 80's, I am of the Atari generation. Considered by J as the first generation of gamers; I grew up on a steady diet of Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Pac Man, Pitfall, Kaboom, etc (insert your favorite classic Atari game here). I owned a handheld video game, to use the term loosely, called Comp IV (http://www.handheldmuseum.com/MB/CompIV.htm). About the size of cordless telephone and twice as heavy, it ran on D batteries and you tried to guess a pattern of numbers that was radomly generated by the 'computer'. I also remember when there were video game arcades in shopping malls. Each game cost only a quarter and an actual human being walked around the arcade making change. While I enjoyed wasting time on these games, I hardly considered myself a serious gamer as I rarely managed a score high enough to warrant inputting my initials.
In the early 90's came Nintendo and all the Super Mario games - J's main video game passion. And so he defines this decade of games as the NES generation, despite the fact that Sega and Playstation entered the market. One of my college housemates had a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), with which I must admit to having a short lived love affair. J often asks me which Mario game I played and if I found all the hidden items. Of course, all I remember is spending hours playing the game while avoiding homework; and something about a magic flute.
As we head into the new millenium and J's birth year of 2001, video game consoles are getting smaller and more affordable. J will tell you he is the Wii Generation. Where the Atari generation simply played pixelated, one dimesional games; the graphics and dimensionality of the Wii Generation are all encompassing. Where the Atari generation used a clumsy joystick that would detach from the game console if you moved too much; the Wii generation controls their games with no wires and no restrictions. Their game controllers move with them and are so responsive to their game play they are like an extra appendage. Handheld games now easily fit in a purse or pocket and can interact with each other even when a person isn't playing with it!
And so like any family, we have a generation gap. Only ours is about our level of video game comprehension. J is fully versed on the different types of video games available on the different game consoles and what they each have to offer. He talks in bits, bytes, interactivity, RPG's, and platforms. I nod and smile and look forward to our trips to a retro arcade where I can plunk a token in to a machine, hear the familiar strains of Pac Man, and be chased by a pixelated ghost. And J, he humors me by waiting his turn in an old fashioned, 2-player game of Q-bert.
What video game generation are you? Atari or Coleco? Gamecube or Playstation? Wii or XBox? Check out this time line and comment below.