Gaming will last for generations. But will the newest generation grasp its roots?
I'll sound like a complete old fogey someday when I describe to my son the video games I grew up playing. Today's kids simply won't be able to comprehend how far gaming has come in just two generations.
"We used to use joysticks to play video games," I'll say, "and we couldn't pick up where we left off if we wanted to go have lunch or ride our bikes." He'll look at me in utter confusion.
In his world, the iPad has always existed. His mother saw Microsoft launch the Kinect when she was eight months pregnant with him. To him, video gaming will always be an immersive, multi-faceted experience.
I'll have to work to make him understand the very concept of a video game cartridge.
"Games weren't like movies when I was a kid," I'll explain to my son. "There were no complex plot lines, no life-like enemies, no game trailers. There was one character you controlled and one obstacle to get around." In a world with theater-quality games such as Call of Duty, the likes of Pac-Man and Punch Out won't even be recognizable as video games to my son.
"If a game was popular enough, it was made into a movie. I used to drag my sister to the theater to see things like the Super Mario Bros. movie -- even if it was terrible," I'll explain. Good games very seldom make movies these days. He may see vintage games made into films (like the upcoming Space Invaders flick) but it will hold little nostalgic value for him. It may even confuse him.
"Your grandma used to take me to an electronics store, where I would pick a game I wanted from a store shelf," I'll tell him. He won't understand this -- because he will always have been able to download games from Xbox Live or iTunes.
He may wonder why I didn't just order several online at once. But games were expensive. I remember eagerly tearing through the packaging in the car on the way home with a valued prize. He won't get that either. Shrink wrap is a foreign concept to his generation, after all.
"I would plug the game into my Atari and wait for it to load up," I'll explain, "and my friends and I would alternate playing to see who would get a higher score or to the higher level." In his world, multiple people can play simultaneously -- even if they live across the globe from one another.
Gamers used to pause games all the time -- turn off the console and you'd lose your place and have to start all over again. This one's guaranteed to boggle his mind. Nowadays gaming lets you pick up where you left off whenever you want to, notably those massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) such as World of Warcraft.
The one concept I think he'll find the hardest to fathom is among the newest revolutions: motion control.
"We couldn't control a cursor or avatar with our bodies when I was a kid. We had to memorize which button did which thing. To jump, we pushed the A button. To duck, push B. Stop to wave a hand in the air and Donkey Kong would get run over by a barrel."
He'll blink in amazement, I'm sure.
Thankfully, I know he's not likely to ask what a Donkey Kong is. Gaming changes, sure, but gaming franchises live on.
So even though my son can do far more with Mario and Luigi than I ever could, I expect us both to be playing as those foolish little Italian men for a long time to come.