I am here today to hang my head in shame and admit to being a veteran of one of the most pointlessly futile and deeply embarrassing wars ever waged.
The Console Wars.
Or rather the ‘my gaming machine is better than yours wars’, as let’s face it, these battles were being waged long before the birth of the console.
For myself, I unknowingly enlisted when I was aged around ten or eleven. I had just become the proud owner of a Spectrum+. Yep, the dream machine with the plastic keys where once they were rubber. Proper cutting-edge shit. Meanwhile, my best friend had acquired an Amstrad. The fool.
Little did we know, but we were now fresh-faced rookie troops in the battle for videogame supremacy.
Us Speccy owners were, of course, the good guys in the conflict. The Han Solos and Luke Skywalkers facing off against the evil Darth Vaders, Jabba the Hutts and Alan Sugars. Rather than scrapping it out across the lush green of the distant planet of Endor, we were more inclined to engage in arguing in bedrooms and playgrounds up and down the country, but you get the gist. It was pre-internet so we went toe to toe like the true adolescent warriors we were.
Now, my best mate, let’s call him Paul because that was his name, and myself were no strangers to a good old argument. It was what best buds did. Our topics were nicely wide-ranging. Liverpool v Man Utd was occasionally the theme and I’ll never forget the Subbuteo riots of ’85 where seven players required immediate superglue attention, the floodlights went over and our Mums got mightily pissed off.
But even all that carnage paled into insignificance when side by side with the absolute aggression we’d each reach when defending our gaming machine of choice.
We fell out time and time again. Blood brothers since nursery separated by who had the best version of Rambo: The Video Game.
It was, and still is, quite remarkable the amount of venom one can spit when defending a piece of plastic that has been elevated to god-like status in its owner’s eyes.
I was guilty of it during my Spectrum days and it continued into what became the Console Wars proper. Mega Drive vs SNES, Saturn vs PlayStation and on and on it went. Pity the poor guy who had the Atari Jaguar, a machine that managed to enter the fray virtually unarmed. Yet the poor owner would have still tried their utmost to convince anyone who would listen that it was the pinnacle of gaming, probably until they believed it themselves. It was just what we did.
This unwavering backing of one console above all others is something that still goes on today. I myself have finally moved away from it and now embrace every gaming platform as an opportunity for further adventures in pixel-land.
But I do sometimes wonder why I was so anti every other console bar whatever I owned. After some thought and narrowing, I believe it boils down to fear.
What the Spectrum, and I guess the Vic20 before it, delivered was something that excited me. Videogames moved from the traditional arcade into the cosy living room. How amazing! In the early days the fights between friends regarding Spectrum and Commodore and Amstrad and even Dragon – we all had that one friend – were no different from the arguments over football teams and superheroes. We all had our favourites and they were best no matter what logical arguments came our way. But as I grew older my viewpoint shifted, and it was shaped by the untimely demise of various machines.
I remember watching in awe one distant morning at Breakfast TV. The presenters were getting to grips with a golf game on a new machine called the 3DO.
It looked incredible and I immediately wanted one. This had to be the future. And then 3DO died a death, leaving its adopters lost in a stormy sea of shit games with no paradise island in sight.
Next, on much loved and always missed evening TV show Gamesmaster, Dominik Diamond unveiled the Aliens vs Predator game for Atari Jaguar- yep that machine again. It looked incredible and true to form, I wanted one. Then the Jaguar too died a death, this time crushed under the weight of Sega, Sony and its own poor games catalogue.
I had luckily avoided both machines, but given the chance - aka the funds – I would have snapped them up in a heartbeat. Opening myself up later to the heartbreak of my console becoming redundant for the company and the cord being cut, leaving the Jaguar, the 3DO and all those who had invested heavily feeling a little ripped off.
Then it finally happened to me. I invested in the Sega Dreamcast. A great machine, fantastic games and a bright future ahead. Until, a mere three months after I picked up the machine, Sega rang time on its console, declaring there would be no new games coming out for it.
I was gutted. But it hammered home for the first time the reason Paul and myself would happily go to war for their console of choice. Because deep down we’re terrified that it will flop and we’ll be left on the gaming sidelines with a machine that has lost its mojo, its audience and its gaming future.
I fought my case for the Xbox against PlayStation owners long and fierce, purely because the thought of Microsoft pulling the plug early made my blood run cold. It now felt like a genuine possibility. I’d been there with the much-missed Dreamcast and it was a shitty place to be.
When videogames play a big role in your life, or when they have been a big part of your past, it’s easy to worry about losing it. And I think I understand that in myself now.
To take my videogames away as a kid would have hurt. To have the machine fail like the 3DO or the Jaguar or the Dreamcast did, for the player who has invested so much time and love into the platform, is a huge blow to take. And so, on the back of that fear, we march into the battlefields of The Console Wars without realising we’re actually all on the same side, fighting for the same goal. The side of videogames themselves and their continued place in homes across the globe, because without them the world would be a much duller place.
Oh, and Paul, if you ever read this, Rambo on the Spectrum was infinitely better than it was on the Amstrad.