Filthy. Casuals. Two words that are put together far too often when discussing videogames on the internet. Well, fact is, everyone has to start somewhere! And while the influx of so-called “casual” and “lapsed” gamers during the Wii generation is oft-discussed (not least on this very blog), the original PlayStation’s appeal to a new, older audience doesn’t get nearly the same level of attention. But if we turn our eyes to the late nineties, the figures don’t lie. The 32-bit generation of consoles – PlayStation, N64 and Saturn combined expanded the videogame market enormously, with approx. 144 million consoles sold in total versus approx. 80 million between Super Nintendo and the Megadrive/Genesis in the previous generation. That’s a whole lot of new gamers.
Now I have to admit I have this slightly weird, anthropological fascination with the topic because over the years I’ve met several adults who were first drawn to gaming during the PlayStation era. Maybe they’d played games before, but not to this extent and certainly never buying a console. I’d like to share anecdotes of a few people I know personally before giving some context for the gaming industry’s attempts to attract an older crowd to gaming.
First of all, I’m friends with a couple who recently confided in me their shared obsession with the original Resident Evil. It had gotten so bad they were staying up late every night playing, only to have nightmares when they eventually went to bed. (Possibly a result of the horrifying voice acting rather than any intended horror by the game designers, but I digress.) As said couple were relating this story to me, their kids, who were present at the time, were in a state of disbelief. “YOU had a PLAYSTATION?!?!”, one of them exclaimed. Mum and Dad explained that they found Resident Evil too difficult alone and resorted to a cheat device. Ultimately, with the help of an invincibility cheat, they beat the game several nights later. And that was the end of the great videogame experiment – Resident Evil proved to be so addictive and frustrating that they didn’t play any other games on their PlayStation, let alone any other console.
Meanwhile, my uncle became interested in videogames as an adult on the PS1 too. As a youngster when visiting him I sampled some of his “mature” games: Brian Lara Cricket, Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, Metal Gear Solid, and World’s Scariest Police Chases. Unlike the previous story, my uncle continued to game post-PS1, on the original Xbox, the 360, Wii, PS3 and now a PS4… and it’s a shared hobby in his family now with my cousins involved. They own so many consoles even I seem casual by comparison 😦
So there’s my anecdotal evidence, and one of the most interesting things about these stories to me is that, as a child, my familiarity with the PlayStation was mostly limited to games starring iconic child-friendly characters like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. And yet at the same time there was an older generation being sold on the console by new franchises like Tomb Raider, Syphon Filter, Metal Gear Solid, Wipeout, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Driver, Gran Turismo and so on.
Of course with such a massive library on the PS1 (well over 1000 games) you’d expect there to be a ton of diversity, with no person’s game library looking exactly the same. Nevertheless Sony took certain steps so that the aforementioned adult-targeted games stood out. Number one was creating adverts which marketed the PlayStation to a more diverse audience.
Number two was distancing the PS1 and its headline games from what had come before. Obviously, the PS1’s library contains a lot of arcade ports and 2D games. But Sony had a reputation, particularly early on in the PlayStation’s lifespan, for discouraging and even sometimes outright preventing the release of 2D games on its system. I’ve prattled a fair bit on this blog about something like The Adventures of Alundra, which is a beautiful 2D game, but as much as I love it and as many fans as there are out there of similar looking games, I can see why Sony discouraged it. 3D games on the PS1 made a clear statement about departing from the norms and designs of “cartoonish” console generations before.
Targeting adults wouldn’t have tenable without the timely forming of the ESRB in the U.S. and ELSPA in Europe in 1994. These rating agencies allowed the console manufacturers, including Sony, to much more easily market to an older audience without necessarily alienating parents with kids clamouring for mascot platformers. The rating systems meant that a system like PlayStation could cater to different audiences at the same time, with certain titles clearly labelled as suitable for adults-only, and others for children. (Whether it successfully stopped kids from playing unsuitable games is an entirely different matter…)
Now of course the introduction of ratings agencies allowed Nintendo and Sega to market to adults too, but they didn’t consistently target adults with high-profile, exclusive games the way Sony did. In terms of exclusives, Nintendo found the odd – or should I say Rare? – success with the Turok series, Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark on N64, but it was slim pickings next to PlayStation. Sega by comparison did even less, rapidly losing franchises like Tomb Raider, Wipeout and Resident Evil to PlayStation while the rare exclusives like House of the Dead, Deep Fear and Enemy Zero failed to make waves.
A few closing thoughts: casual gaming is not and never has been a bad thing. The original PlayStation, like the Wii, was pivotal in opening up the medium of gaming to new players. The games industry can’t survive, let alone thrive, without new blood and anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded. So here’s to casual gamers and making gaming accessible to all! Lastly, have a great day and do share your PS1-related anecdotes in the comments below.