The Evolution of Game Console Design—and American Gamers

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From technical constraints to designer flights of fancy, online game consoles have had a wild historical past, usually mirroring—or establishing—the aesthetic sensibilities of the American gamer. Here’s a glance again via 9 generations of plastic containers that dominated US residing rooms for practically 40 years.

The ninth era of consoles is right here—and, wow, are they hideous. There’s the big black rectangular prism with the cheese grater high that Microsoft is asking the Xbox Series X, together with it’s diminutive 1080p counterpart, the Series S, that appears like a pretentious bookshelf sound system in an equally pretentious NYC inventive director’s workplace (or his baby’s dorm room). Sony has deserted the big-black-slab method and as an alternative given us a nightmare actual property developer who noticed a Frank Gehry espresso desk guide as soon as after which determined to make use of that as inspiration for “bringing Dubai to Atlantic City on a budget.” Yes, it’s a cheesy casino-hotel in miniature. But solely so miniature, as a result of it’s the most important and heaviest of the brand new class.

Were these designs at all times so missing in inspiration or a way of cheap aesthetics? Has there ever been a online game console that wasn’t a humiliation within the family? Or have they at all times been graceless monstrosities?

The fact is as difficult as America’s evolving sense of style and elegance (and in some methods, how console producers see the audiences they’ve created). But first we’ve to return to the wood-paneled 1970s …

Atari Had to Fall so Nintendo Could Rise

Released on September 11, 1977, the Atari 2600 is a traditional. It’s the traditional in some methods. The unique US online game console took its aesthetic cues from the early private computer systems of the ’70s. Wedgelike and clad in faux wooden paneling, the Atari 2600 featured a grilled plastic high with a distinguished angular ridge on the again. It’s extra of a ghastly classic digital alarm clock than the rest. But it was proper at residence within the wood-paneled, high-pile carpeted dens of the ’70s.

Unfortunately, the Atari was too well-liked. Other firms shortly flooded the market with Atari-like consoles. Oversaturation available in the market occurred earlier than even half of American households had a online game console, and by 1983 the business imploded.

When planning to convey its Famicom over to Western markets in 1985, Nintendo knew it could not market its console in the identical manner. After the online game crash of 1983, there was main concern a couple of sport console trying like a sport console.

People did not need these anymore. So Nintendo made the Nintendo Entertainment System to seem like a hybrid between a kids’s toy and a VCR. Even the selection of title communicates how pressing the necessity was to differentiate it from a “game console.”

Sturdy and rectangular, the NES featured a lidded door that hid a tape-deck-like, hinged-spring cartridge slot. Instead of black and wood-grain laminate, it was clad in two-tone grey plastic panels that stood out from earlier consoles. It may not have been cute, even by the requirements of the time, however it stood out—and Nintendo’s gambit labored. Games have been again in US households, child!

All-American Death Drive

Photograph: Evan Amos

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