Incredible, isn’t it?
Whomever’s banner you ride under nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to argue against the PlayStation being the most important console ever in terms of laying the framework for modern gaming.
But I have a confession to make – having been weaned on Sonic the Hedgehog, my first choice back then was actually a Saturn; I ended up with a PlayStation only because it was cheaper. Thankfully, missing out on Sega’s ill-fated 32-bit console to save a few quid turned out to be the best compromise I ever made.
The rise of the PlayStation was something of a watershed moment for the industry, as the console was arguably the first to be aimed primarily at young adults rather than children, both in terms of marketing and the kinds of games on offer. At the time, this resonated particularly well with my 11 year-old self, as it felt as though my own just-beginning journey into adulthood was being mirrored by that of my favourite hobby, almost like it was maturing with me. The Mega Drive and SNES’ endless tirades of side-strollers contrasted starkly with the PlayStation’s already varied lineup by the time I got one in mid ’97; in that first year I dipped my toes into countless new and exciting genres, and those experiences, more than any I’ve had with other hardware before or since, proved formative in terms of my tastes even today, on the cusp of my 30s.
It would transpire that I was a little ahead of the curve, as the tipping point at which it became obvious that Sony’s upstart would vanquish the Saturn and relegate the N64 to cult status came a little later, during Christmas ’97, when most retailers here in the UK were offering a Value Pack including two controllers and a memory card for £129.99, and demand far outstripped supply. By the new year, PlayStation became the de facto topic of playground conversation, and dominance was assured.
But my love affair with the console was cut short by the release of the Dreamcast, as the pull of fully-realised 3D Sonic, in the form of Sonic Adventure, proved too strong to resist. After the Dreamcast failed and Sega turned its back on hardware forever, I briefly owned a PS2, but despised it. The masses didn’t agree, though, and the second PlayStation served only to widen the gap between Sony and its competitors. The PS3 was a great console on paper, but much hubris on Sony’s part; thinking they were far enough ahead that they could arrive to the party late with an overpriced behemoth built on obscure custom architecture and still bring home the gold, relegated them to second place in the US and many areas of Europe last generation,
Now the PS4 is here I’m back on-board, if only because 7 years of Xbox 360 ownership has numbed me to the appeal of Microsoft’s exclusives, and I fancied a change of scenery. It goes without saying that the PlayStation 4 experience is staggeringly different to that of the original, as pretty much all the classic franchises that lead Sony’s first born to greatness have been left in a state of dormancy, and the rise of the internet has meant that the PlayStation Network is now irrevocably entwined with the day to day use of the console. But PlayStation’s most enduring legacy, the metamorphosis of console gaming into a primarily adult pastime, remains despite the enormous gulf between what was, and what is today.
This, rather than lazy Sunday afternoons in front of Tekken, or endlessly comparing notes on Final Fantasy VII with peers, is what we should take a few minutes to reflect on now, 20 years later.