The Evolution of the Gamer

A look back at the history of gamers over the last 40 years.

*This content is sponsored by Logitech and was created independently of the Den of Geek editorial team* 

Gaming is a wide and varied landscape with many different tribes, but anyone who enjoys games can agree that one of the most important things is being able to just have a good time without being hampered by the wrong gear.

Ad – content continues below

The Logitech G Prodigy series is a range of gaming gear for everyone. Simple and easy to use, but packed with amazing technology you’d expect from pro equipment, it includes the G403 Prodigy Gaming Mouse, G403 Prodigy Wireless Gaming Mouse, G213 Prodigy RGB Gaming Keyboard and the G231 Prodigy Gaming Headset – gear that’s comfortable to use, looks great, and delivers unbeatable performance.

Ad – content continues below

If you’re all about the fun but don’t want to blow your savings on a high-end kit full of features you know you won’t use, the Logitech G Prodigy series is for you, no matter which gaming tribe you’re part of. And there have been a lot of tribes over gaming’s long history. Here’s our guide to how gamers have evolved over the past 40 years. See if you can pinpoint your own preferred point in gaming history.

1978-

Early arcade games, not to put too fine a point on it, were hard, and with good reason: they existed to generate an income from all those deposited coins, and if games were too easy then people would play for too long, damaging the bottom line. While this wasn’t much of an issue for very early games such as Night Driver and Boot Hill, which were little more than digital sideshow challenges, once Space Invaders landed everything changed.

Ad – content continues below

The arcades raised their game, offering exciting and challenging games that would still eat the pocket money of the unwary, but which, once you learned your skills, could conceivably last for ages. Dedicated arcade gamers were the original hardcore players, knowing all the tricks that could place them in an unassailable position at the top of the high score, and eager to show off their skills. And while arcades are largely a thing of the past, the arcade gaming spirit lives on the in the form of bullet hell shooters and unforgiving titles like Dark Souls, in which the only way to succeed is to GIT GUD.

Ad – content continues below

1977-1984

While arcades were rising to prominence in the late 1970s, gaming was also touching down in the living room, initially in the form of any number of identikit “TV games” offering a thrilling selection of variations on Pong, some of them in color! But it was Atari’s VCS that truly kickstarted console gaming, with a vast assortment of games on cartridge.

Built with two joystick ports so you could play against your friends on your big TV, its big moment came in 1980 when Atari released Space Invaders, the first time an arcade game was licensed for a home console, and while it lacked the arcade version’s looks, it at least meant you could play it at home without having to keep pumping coins into an arcade machine. Consoles such as the VCS and later the Intellivision and Colecovision became the way to enjoy, after a fashion, some of the biggest and best arcade games without going to an arcade, and for a while consoles were the most popular way to play by far.

Ad – content continues below

1982-1990

The video game crash of 1983 – caused by too many consoles and too many games, a lot of them of very poor quality – wiped out consoles for a few years, but the gaming genie was out of the bottle and the consoles’ replacements were already making their way into homes with names like the Apple II, Vic-20, ZX Spectrum, and Commodore 64.

The idea of home computers was that you could do real computing on them – learn to program, sort out your accounts, and of course do your homework – but they were also perfectly suited to video games, with the added advantage that anyone, in theory, could make and release, unlike with console games where the barrier to entry was largely controlled by the manufacturer. The result was an endless stream of inventive and much cheaper computer games, many of them better than their console counterparts (with quite a few terrible ones to keep you on your toes). It was the first wave of indie gaming, at least until the first big-name publishers and distributors started establishing themselves.

Ad – content continues below

Gamers identified themselves by their computer, magazines and shops sprung up filled with the latest releases (which were swiftly copied and passed around the playground), and while computer gaming was far from cool, if you were 14 and had a C64 and a copy of Impossible Mission, you didn’t care.

1988-1995

Home computers never really went away, but from the mid-1980s onwards the consoles started a comeback that originated in Japan. First Nintendo’s NES and then Sega’s Master System made their way west, dedicated consoles that provided much more polished games than titles for more general-purpose home computers. As the Japanese console giants established dominance over the console market, you had to pick your side: you were either a Sega or Nintendo gamer, and the rivalry was intense.

Ad – content continues below

Gaming was starting to become more mainstream, especially as Nintendo and Sega released their next-gen consoles, the SNES and the Genesis (or Megadrive, depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you lived). TV companies started making shows about gaming – particularly in the UK, where both GamesMaster and Bad Influence ruled the airwaves for a while in the early 1990s, and true to form, the tabloid press started to panic about inappropriate gaming content, most notably in the infamous Mortal Kombat. By now it was clear that gaming wasn’t a fad, but it was still colored by the notion that it was just for kids; this, however, was soon to change.

1995-2001

PlayStation crew

An ill-fated attempt by Nintendo to create a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES had an unexpected knock-on effect, when its partner in the canned SNES-CD system decided to take its technology and make its own console. The result was the Sony PlayStation, and it shook up the console market – and gaming – forever.

Ad – content continues below

Despite increasingly edgy advertising for games – especially for Sega’s 16-bit titles – gaming still hadn’t shaken off its “just for kids” reputation; that is, until Sony came storming in with a succession of razor-sharp campaigns and strong marketing that positioned the PlayStation as the must-have accessory for 20-somethings. And beyond the marketing, titles such as Wipeout – with its on-point Designers Republic looks and thumping techno soundtrack – and Tomb Raider established the PlayStation as the default 90s pre-pub and post-club activity. Suddenly gaming was for everyone, and Sony reaped the benefits, quickly knocking Sega out of the console market (and leaving room for Microsoft to rock up and have a go).

1996-

Pro gamers

While the consoles were achieving dominance in the gaming world, home computers were still fighting their corner; more specifically, the PC, previously a dull beige box more suited to spreadsheets and word processing, was establishing itself as a gaming heavyweight (albeit one still in a dull beige box). This was largely thanks to the efforts of id Software who, with Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and then Quake, defined the PC as something that could deliver immersive and nerve-shredding 3D titles that completely outdid the best that consoles could offer, with the added benefit that you could hook your PC up to others over a local area network (and later, the internet) and play against whole groups of human opponents.

Ad – content continues below

LAN parties – where loads of people would turn up and network their hardware for 48 hours of non-stop shooting – became the weekend away of choice for one gaming tribe, and having the best mouse and keyboard really started to matter. And it’s here that pro gaming really kicked off; while big-prize tournaments had been around for some time, Quake and LAN parties in the 90s lit a pro gaming fuse that exploded into the world of eSports in the 21st century.

2006-2012

The active gamer

For the most part, gaming had always been a sedentary pastime; a couch and a controller in your hand, or a desk with keyboard and mouse, and you were good to go. But occasionally games would challenge that state of affairs; games like the original Street Fighter arcade machine with its mechatronic pads that made your character punch or kick harder, depending on how hard you hit them, or titles such as Dance Dance Revolution in which you jumped around on big floor-based controllers. The mid-00s saw the rise of titles such as Guitar Hero, with dedicated controllers to let you simulate – to a degree – rocking out on stage, but it was Nintendo that took the concept of active gaming and ran with it, with the Wii.

Ad – content continues below

Bundled with a motion controller and the brilliant Wii Sports, which had everyone swatting at digital tennis balls and hurling pretend bowling balls at their TVs (not to mention the occasional controller, it got gamers out of their seats in their millions. Then it went even further with Wii Fit and its strange balance board. The third-biggest selling non-bundled console game of all time, with over 22 million copies sold, for a while it had us all doing yoga, aerobics, and strength training in front of our TVs.

2008-

Indies

For a very long time the ability to make a game and get it into people’s hands was restricted by the whole business of having to physically manufacture and distribute it, whether it was on disc, cartridge or, if you’re really old, cassette. It was an expensive business and arguably led to the big names in gaming playing it a bit safe in order to guarantee sales, but the rise of the internet and high-speed broadband connections made it increasingly possible to distribute games digitally. It was Valve, creator of Half-Life, that took the initiative with Steam, an online games market that significantly lowered the entry bar for anyone wanting to get into the games business.

Ad – content continues below

Digital distribution meant that more than ever before, leftfield indie games that would have been too risky for mainstream publishers were able to get out there in front of an audience and demonstrate that there’s more to gaming than the AAA blockbuster, and it wasn’t long before all three big console companies started offering online market space to indies on their own digital stores, not forgetting the massive impact of the iOS App Store.

2010-

Minecraft, with its blocky world and the barest smearing of traditional gameplay elements, never seemed to have the makings of a global phenomenon, but it had exactly the right ingredients to strike a massive and loud chord with legions of younger gamers who took to it in droves. In hindsight, its appeal to kids is obvious: there’s the LEGO-style aspect of being free to build – and of course destroy – anything you like on any scale, unfettered by the tedious physical restrictions of the real world, but there’s also the irresistible draw of discovering and learning the secrets of Minecraft‘s recipes and techniques for crafting items and exotic new materials out of its limited assortment of basic building blocks.

Ad – content continues below

And of course the ability to do all this online on a shared server with friends is the icing on the cake. First released on PC in 2009 and now available on pretty much every platform imaginable, Minecraft is currently the second best-selling video game of all time (after Tetris) and its success shows no sign of abating.

2011-

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, today you can enjoy games without even picking up a controller. You can get online and watch someone else play. Streaming videos and livestreams have become a staple of the gaming world, with the people behind some of them becoming internet celebrities and commanding small fortunes through sponsorship and ad revenue. Anyone with an internet connection and an account on Twitch or YouTube Gaming can get into the streaming business, and the successful ones can reel in millions of viewers and subscribers.

Ad – content continues below

It’s a bit of a far cry from traditional gaming. Older gamers might wonder what the appeal is of watching someone else play a game rather than actually play it yourself, but even if you don’t buy into the idea, it can be a great way of grabbing a quick look at a game you’re thinking of buying; and when you find yourself stuck at a difficult part of a game, it’s a lot easier to find a video than to dig through a bunch of written walkthroughs.

2013-

The Players

It used to be that if you wanted to play a particular game then you’d end up being tied into a particular platform, but as time has moved on that’s become less and less of an issue. Most games are released across multiple platforms simultaneously, and today practically everyone has the world’s most versatile and open gaming system in their home.

Ad – content continues below

The PC is more affordable than ever, with console-beating technology under the hood, instant access to an ever-growing collection of the best that gaming has to offer, and wallet-friendly gaming gear that offers pro performance and incredible reliability for all. Gaming is open to everyone now, and while we might all have radically different tastes in games, perhaps putting in hours at a time grinding the latest MMO, or grabbing the odd five minutes of a casual puzzler, we’re all doing it. We are all the players.

For more on the Logitech G Prodigy series, which inspired this story go here.