After bad guys were vanquished, puzzles were solved, allowances and wages spent, it is time to say farewell and thanks for everything in 2006. It was a transition year for video games and the people who make and play them, but the multiheaded pastime showed few signs of slowing down. The ultimate proof of gaming’s growth, besides the now expected year-on-year increase in sales, is that even the most media-allergic Luddite probably ended up hearing more about games in 2006 than in any previous year.
People learned about them from nieces and nephews who spent weekends in online worlds such as World of Warcraft or at parties playing Guitar Hero; someone at school or work may have showed off their DS Lite, the Nintendo portable that sold millions of people on the health benefits of playing mind games such as conversations about watching movies in high-definition, HD-DVD versus Blu-ray Disc, led inevitably to a comparison of Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 as home-entertainment hubs.
In a variety of ways, on a variety of platforms, video games reached ever more people this year. What this means is still a matter of some debate several studies told us games are good for our brains while another said they are directly responsible for declining vocabulary totals in young people, but 2006 further cemented interactive experiences as legitimate contenders for free time, right up there with movies and TV shows.
Beyond its continually creeping relevance, gaming’s story of the year was the arrival of the next-generation consoles. The Xbox 360, after shortages early in the year, established itself as the machine to beat on the back of best-selling games such as the sprawling fantasy title Oblivion and the gut-wrenching shooter Gears of War. Sony’s year, by contrast, was one to forget outside of another strong term for its venerable PlayStation 2.
The release of its successor, the PS3, was pushed back until November in North America and Japan (and to 2007 for the rest of the world), and when it did arrive supplies were as scarce as good reviews. It will rebound, but might not truly shine until 2008 or until there’s a price cut, whichever comes first.
The Japanese play experts at Nintendo spent the year saying they would sign up converts using new control schemes the DS’s touch screen and the Wii’s motion-sensing wands and did just that. The Wii got players off the couch not to mention breaking wrist straps, scratching TV screens and thwacking grandkids and took home the Tickle-Me-Elmo award as most wanted holiday gift in the process.
As for what failed to arrive, the video-game world did not welcome its Citizen Kane or even Birth of a Nation, a work of art that could establish the medium as a meaningful delivery system for ideas. There were fun games and there were beautiful games, but fantasy and escapism still dominated. Perhaps such sound and fury are all gamers can ever expect, and there is something to be said for the lasting appeal of pure play.
But there is a growing feeling, and not just among game reviewers attempting to justify their existence, that the activity has to add up to something more than profits and fleeting tugs at the baser emotions. With capable machines and word spreading to a broader audience, at least that breakthrough seems closer now than it did 365 days ago.
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