And so we have finally arrived at ‘last-gen’ on our quest to determine which generation is the best one of them all and in all honesty, the seventh generation of video games was my personal pick to be the best gen of them all when I started this project (but now who knows!). it just seemed like the perfect time to be a gamer as no matter how you decided to game you had a strong console, supported by a steady stream of quality games that just never seemed to end. Yep, the 7th generation of gaming really was a great time to be a ‘gamer’ but was it also the best? Here’s why I think it is.
The seventh generation of gaming will be remembered for many things and rightfully so as it was a diverse and inclusive time to be a gamer, so much so that the very meaning of the word ‘gamer’ changed dramatically in the mid to late 2000’s. What was once seen as an exclusive club for the geeky and antisocial by the mainstream media was opened up to whole new demographics during this generation, thanks in part to Nintendo’s two mass-market friendly systems; the Nintendo DS and the Wii as well as both Sony and Microsoft’s systems finally becoming the entertainment hubs that were promised back in the 6th generation. In terms of expanding the reach of gaming to new frontiers, no era has been successful than the 7th generation.
These new players were brought in thanks to audience expanding titles like Nintendogs, Brain Age, Professor Layton, Wii Sports, Wii Fit, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Just Dance and Kinect Sports to name only a few of the many audience expanding games released during the era. Each of these played like nothing before it thanks to new, innovative ways to control games. Touch-screens and motion controls soon became must-have features for every system and helped open up new doors and avenues for creativity in the industry. To this day, every major has the option to play games with motion controls or by tapping a screen, a clear sign that throwing virtual bowling balls and dancing in place were more than just passing fads, but a much-needed infusion of new life into the industry.
That’s not to say that ‘traditional’ or ‘core’ gamers were left out of the cold however as some of the best games ever made were released during this time too. Titles like Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty 4, Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Final Fantasy XIII and Metal Gear Solid 4 all kept the home fires of the industry burning bright during what ended up being one of the longest generations gaming has yet seen. Just like casual gaming, it can be said that AAA gaming really came into its own during the 7th generation with major blockbusters garnering huge amounts of hype and anticipation from fans and the public alike. You just have to look back at the launch celebrations for games like Halo 3 or God of War III to see that gaming was finally ready for the mainstream.
One element that really helped push both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (and to a lesser extend the Wii) into more people’s homes was that it was now perfectly viable to have your game console be at the center of your entertainment hub. No longer just a way to play games and DVDs, your system could now give you access to a near endless supply content thanks to built in web browsers and access to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Crunchyroll on top of the ability to play content back in HD thanks to new formats like Blu-ray. While it may not have been to play video games necessarily, you now had folks who had never before turned on a gaming console now using it daily to access their favorite TV shows or check up on social media posts, which has the carryover effect of driving sales of those system’s successors when it becomes time to upgrade.
Just like motion controls, HD graphics also allowed for a lot more creative interpretations of game designer’s visions and game worlds and for time ever this was possible in a game console thanks to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3’s processing power. For the first time since the 4th generation and its famous ‘console wars’, the debate of which console was the most powerful or had the most impressive games was a hot topic of debate among fans of either system. And like during the 4th generation, the passion seen during these debates (while sometimes obnoxious) really shows how much some gamers have a passion for the industry and for their favorite titles, creators and platform of choice.
During the previous generation, we saw how online gaming was starting to come into its own, especially on home consoles. And if that gen laid the groundwork then the 7th generation built the house. Joining the already established Xbox Live were Sony’s PlayStation Network and Nintendo’s Wi-Fi Connection which allowed you to play online with friends or strangers no matter what your platform of choice was. And while the experience varied wildly depending on what game system you were using, it shows how important online gaming had become for the industry in a relatively short period of time. Today it is almost inconceivable for games in certain genres to release without an online component and that’s all thanks to all major players adopting online gameplay as a standard in the mid-2000’s.
If you’ve read the other chapters in this series, you’ll know that handheld gaming has exclusively been the domain of Nintendo since the Game & Watch came into the scene in the 1980’s. Sure challengers like the Game Gear and Neo-Geo Pocket would come up time and again but none were every able to make a dent in Nintendo’s domination of the handheld space. All of that would change however during the 7th generation when Sony’s first handheld, the PSP was able to sell through a whopping 80.23 million units, which while small when compared to the Nintendo DS’ 154.88 million systems did show the world that the handheld gaming crown was up for grabs and making that side of the industry more competitive than it had ever been, especially when mobile phones started being able to run more advanced games.
PC gaming was no slouch during this generation either, in fact it might have gotten one of its most important releases in history – the launch of Valve’s Steam service. While technically it became available in 2003 it wasn’t until 2005 that Valve began allowing third-party games onto the service and it became more like what we know it to be today. Since its release Steam has become nearly synonymous with PC gaming thanks in part to the large and involved community, developer support and of course ease of accessibility (the sales don’t hurt either). For decades PC gaming was often out of reach of the ‘every-man’ gamer due to the complexity of setting up a compatible machine and then getting games to run properly. Steam goes a long way to fixing those issues.
The seventh generation of gaming may have just ended a few years ago but the memories and nostalgia associated with it is strong enough that many gamers have a deep affinity for the time. Sure, motion controls weren’t for everybody and being screamed at by a 12-year-old online is nobody’s idea of fun but these innovations (among many others) helped expand gaming brand new audiences and allowed creators to spread their ideas further than before. These new ideas not spread throughout casual gaming but also influenced our favorite ‘core’ titles and helped push the medium further than it ever was before and those are the reasons why the seventh generation is the best of them all.