The Console Wars: Platforms, Fanboys, and Gamer Identity

Curator's Note

The 1990s were arguably the height of the console wars-- a phenomenon that saw Sega and Nintendo battle it out for supremacy in the 16-bit console market.  Savvy marketeers at Sega fueled this war with incendiary advertisements that included the tagline "Genesis does what Nintendon't."  This marketing campaign touted the Sega Gensis's superior technology and exceptional game library.  Although marketing professionals may have started the war, it was the fans that took the battle to the next level, marking an interesting moment in video game history where brand loyalty and platform choice helped to dictate gamer culture and identity.

Before the console wars, gamers were often simply identified as video game enthusiasts; however, after the console wars gamers started to self-identify (or be identified by their rivals) as either Nintendo or Sega fanboys or fangirls.  These proxy wars for platform dominance exploded with the rise of the internet.  Web forums gave new life to flamewars where self-identifying console devotees proved their devotion to their chosen console and sought to argue the technological weaknesses of rival platforms.  As the Sony Playstation and XBox 360 entered the arena (and Sega shuttered its console operations in 2001) this console war only grew.

So where are we today with the console wars?  With the release of next gen consoles such as the Xbox One and the Playstation 4, you'd think that console warfare would be in full effect.  Although video game consoles and brand loyalty may still be a significant source of debate in online forums, it's important to note how one specific platform may be changing the landscape for the modern gamer: cell phones.

The rise of mobile gaming and the simultaneous ubiquity of smart phones as a platform has drastically altered the demographic of what we might call a gamer.  So although it seems that Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft fanboys and fangirls may not be going anywhere, as technology converges and mobile gaming continues to grow we may see the term "gamer" continue to evolve in interesting ways.


Ubiquity, is definitely the issue here. As someone who never really identified as a gamer, it always felt like there was a large part of that culture that I just didn't "get" (even though it always seemed interesting to me). I'm reminded of this key argument that Clay Shirky made years ago: "Communications tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring," in Here Comes Everybody. It's not the newest thing that changes us (like Occulus Rift or the self-driving car). It's when that functionality becomes diffused and, to some degree, "expected" that the human element can really change it. That's happening, as you've said, with mobile platforms. I also think that there's an interesting correlation between the argument that you're making her and the rise of "gamification" (which by now is a pretty old term) in education and business. Gamification wasn't really a thing until everyone could engage playfully with technology on devices not specifically designed for games (smart phones). The tangental side-features of the phone have not just made games change and develop, they've also made the abstract concepts of "gaming" (leveling up, developing skills, building a narrative, collaboration) valuable in wider and wider contexts.

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