In ‘The History of Games,’ the Social Evolution of Video Games Unfolds

The Gamespot series is an illuminating glimpse into how much the industry has changed in the last decade.
January 16, 2019
7 mins read

Whether you like them or hate them, video games are here to stay. They’ve provided hours (if not days, weeks or months) of entertainment for people around the globe, and they keep evolving with better graphics, richer storylines and more immersive gameplay.

The History of Games” series, on the Gamespot YouTube channel, dives into the evolution of certain games from their inception to the present. Their playlist features analysis of well-known game series, such as “Assassin’s Creed,” “The Sims,” “Resident Evil” and “Elder Scrolls.”

Personally, I’m not much of a gamer. I have an unusual fascination with “The Sims” franchise, and I’ve played maybe a total of an hour of “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” on my friend’s Xbox because I grossly misjudged the game as an “exploration simulator.”

“The History of Games,” however, captured my attention — in part because I do like learning about the games, but the more I watched, the more I noted that Gamespot articulates the history as remarkably dependent on social components, both in the psychology of the games, in real-life commerce and various communities.

Video games aren’t generally regarded as a social experience, but with the popularity of gaming channels on YouTube and multiplayer games, social gaming is the preferred way for many people. Gamespot’s series may inadvertently show through history that video games have always been something of a social and shared experience despite its solitary nature — even before people watched gaming videos.

In-Game Psychological Characteristics

The evolution of each game presents more complex pieces in gameplay, and Gamespot often notes key differences and similarities between each version. Sometimes it’s a significant change in world layout and automatically created towns in the “Elder Scrolls” franchise, or it’s the revamped console change to the VR for “Resident Evil 7.”

These developments change gameplay greatly, but one of the curious repeating features that they present is the evolution of characters in each series, or the overall notion of creating humans that contain verisimilitude. In the “Assassin’s Creed” video, Gamespot shows that the game really took off in sales with the introduction of the protagonist Ezio in “Assassins Creed II,” who is charming and likable enough, but whose revenge mission to avenge his family pushes along the plot of the game. Although not overly complex, a sympathetic character won the hearts of fans.

Socially, his character is something of an emblem for what the series used to be, and strong characters do seem to make or break a game’s popularity. Other games opt for the player to make their own character, such as “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.” They take another step into the psychological, as Gamespot notes, because they created a reputation system. It would determine how other NPCs (Non-Player Characters) would interact with your own. The plot is strong, but there’s also the option of just exploring or completing other quests, so the character is really the base figure for the player.

The Sims” has the most fascinating in-game social interactions, because they are arguably the most complex. There are a lot of interactions available, but especially with newer editions like “Sims 4,” moods and fame play into how other sims view and treat your character. Gamespot discusses in the video how the sims in “Sims 2” now had personalities and could form memories based on past interactions.

Although these games can be played alone, they’re extremely social. They require interacting verbally and physically with other characters to complete goals, whether it’s selling gold or making friends, and the principle characters have developed over the years as the most crucial components in a game.

The games later in each series do seem to involve more of that social interaction in plotlines, even if the main point is just to blow up zombies. There’s always some context now, or some variety of backstory.

The Nature of Commerce

Of course, there’s always the other variety of social influence: the creator/consumer relationship. With each game release, public opinion directly indicates what worked well and what didn’t, mostly through sales.

There is also something to be said for game reviews, however, which now come in a variety of different forms, from publications like Game Informer to more unique takes on gaming like YouTube channel The Game Theorists.

Indeed, nothing has changed gaming culture quite like the internet. However, Gamespot posits that even before game-review videos were a thing, these game communities existed, though not nearly in the same capacity as now. Gaming conventions, such as GenCon, began back in 1968, and esports are growing in popularity across the globe, with tournaments for games such as “League of Legends” and “Fortnite.”

The social aspect is partially competitive, and Gamespot shows that many of the games, including “The Sims” and “Assassin’s Creed,” had and have multiplayer platforms where players can do a number of things, including visit friend’s creations and battle, respectively.

Online Communities and Beyond

As I watched these videos, it struck me that kids watching play-throughs of people playing games wasn’t necessarily some newfangled concept that swept in with the millennium. It was a new way for the gaming community to reach more people without those people needing to come to conventions and tournaments.

Other forms of more traditional entertainment have also found homes on the internet, from people obsessed with beauty and makeup tutorials to BookTubers. The interest in makeup, books and games didn’t pop up overnight; the internet has just allowed for these communities to flourish under new circumstances.

And they all do what they’ve always done: share their interests. They discuss what they like, dislike and what they’ve modified from their favorite games, much like how a book club will share new releases with their viewers and friends. Through word of mouth, they share what they love with each other despite the solitary nature of the activity.

Gamespot presents the histories of some of the most beloved games, and the social platforms available online and in real life allow for people to bond over their shared experiences. Maybe it’s about the first time they played “Super Mario Bros.” on the Nintendo Entertainment System, or, for younger generations, it’s about when they first started playing “Fortnite” on Mom’s laptop.

Gamespot usually ends the video with what’s next for each franchise, and they maintain a hopeful note, even when some of the previous installments weren’t up to par. That hopefulness will ideally be bolstered by those eager fans, whose standards push the creators to evolve their works into something greater than the last. Either way, they’ll certainly have something new to discuss.

Allison Kestler, Augustana College

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Allison Kestler

Augustana College

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