Where Are They Now—Series Conspectus
A Look Back at Gaming and Game Culture
An introduction to a slipstream meta-commentary on the evolution and current status of video game franchise icons and how they’ve mutated and grown across multiple platforms! Time is kinder to some than others, and some of these… well, clearly came from a different era. An enthusiast invites our readers on a somewhat more visceral examination than most.
Editor’s Note: “Where Are They Now?” Series graphic is a custom commissioned piece from Rowan North’s Illustrations.
Hello fellow nerds, geeks, and everyone just along for the ride! Welcome to “Where Are They Now,” a look back at the history of gaming, as well as the modern era, and where the industry icons have landed. In the future installments, we’ll take a bit of a walk down memory lane. Our focus here is more than merely video games or their genres. The goal is to traverse an overview of gaming history as whole, all the way back to Tennis for Two [ 1 ]. Following that, we’ll address more recent works with brands such as the Legend of Zelda and Doom, as well as some modern games whose pedigree is less of a direct link, and more accurately a culmination of decades of innovation, learning, and love.
For many, video games are a mere pastime, to occupy themselves between work and sleep. That’s fine—everyone needs a hobby, and there’s no shame in keeping oneself active and distracted from responsibilities, once in a while. That was my experience, after all! Admittedly, writing and research for this series has helped me reconsider my engagement with gaming, as more of a job [ 2 ]. Regardless, I did grow up with this hobby as my escapism, passing the time between school days or during summer vacation. The way some found their comfort in sports or listening to music, I found myself by delving into comics and, of course, video games. Fantasy worlds held so much wonder above any other interests. Sure, there was merit in sports like hockey, and listening to music was an enjoyable aid to help me concentrate. But these didn’t hold a candle to “meeting” strange new creatures, grand adventures through time, and befriending kindred spirits who were worlds away [ 3 ]. I connected with kids my own age, of course, but these hobbies formed a cultural touchstone with folks who’ve followed me throughout my life. The landscape and games may have changed, but I still find myself comfortable in the world of video games. Conventions like PAX East in Boston, have only furthered that comfort and sense of connection [ 4 ]. It has helped me grow, embrace my identity, and become the woman I am today. It’s no exaggeration to say that video games have been a safe haven to many like me; isolated folk who feel outcast from society, finding safety among friends within this community. And though there are occasionally bad actors and awful people—as with ANY subculture—it’s still a home for many, myself included [ 5 ]. I still have deeply personal memories of my father waking up the house to tell us he saved the Princess in the first Super Mario Bros., a feat that, until then, my family and I all thought an insurmountable task.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl
Comics, more than any other media, shaped my life, world view, and personality. Even more than video games. My imagination was never stifled by them, as so many parents have often fretted, inspired by Tipper Gore or Jack Thompson [ 6 ][ 7 ]. If anything, they bolstered my creativity. I’d imagine myself fighting along with the Avengers, battling evil across the galaxy, or off in my own fantasy world, being the hero I knew I could be. Comics instilled in me the confidence to create my own original stories and setting pieces, completely apart from these worlds. Thus, I learned of my love of creating new characters and larger-than-life personalities.
Like so many others, through fan fiction I grew to love creative writing, and most importantly, it inspired me to hone my skills. Even though these people and places weren’t real (I was clear on that), the ideals and concepts were. Doing the right thing simply because someone had to, spoke to me, including standing up to bullies per Captain America’s example. Collaborating with others of differing skills and walks of life to make your mark on the world has led me to meet many great and interesting people. Throughout all this, the personalities and characters were flawed. I could relate to Peter Parker fighting crime even when he had a cold. I, too, had to suffer responsibilities even when I wanted to do nothing more than curl up and sniffle my brains out [ 8 ]. Green Lantern, especially Kyle Rayner, was another one favorite. His superpowered ring, when wielded by someone who conquered their fears, allowed them to fight evil with their very imagination [ 9 ]. Their creativity and willpower became their greatest visceral assets in the fight against evil. It was everything I had ever wanted. This pushed me to find games where I could live out the fantasy of being a hero. Games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic allowed me to pick options that would best fit my fantasy of being a hero, and a good person, above all else [ 10 ]. Undertale was a revelation, by completely subverting the idea that protagonists had to kill monsters to truly be the “Good Guy” [ 11 ]. It endeared itself to a wide audience, myself included, through its vision of a different path for altruism than violent conflict typical of the medium.
As for other franchises, I was a hardcore Sonic fan for much of my childhood. It wasn’t until Pokémon that I truly became a lifelong Nintendo supporter. I loved Mario, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t until these wonderful little monsters brightened the gray-scale screen of my Game Boy Pocket, that I felt like something else latch on to my imagination as comics had. I always loved video games, but even Final Fantasy or Mega Man failed to stir my imagination in the same way as comics or books. Everything changed, as they say, that cold October morning. It was such a minor thing, but the freedom to create my own team set my mind ablaze. It was so much more personal and real to me. It made it feel like my journey and the emphasis on these creatures being your friends and partners made connecting with them all the much easier [ 12 ].
But, I digress—this isn’t just a rambling series of nostalgia-tinged love notes to media in general. These articles are from a place of love, and over three decades of viscerally jumping on Goombas, curling up into a Morph ball, and capturing pocket monsters. Even if their purpose is more academic in nature, they’re still crammed with passion for this hobby. This is more than cold calculation and sterile analysis, but of a historian writing about her favorite era, or even a curator discussing her favorite museum piece. Until I get to the FPS portion, anyways. At that point, I won’t lie to you, dear reader; we are not gonna talk a lot about military shooters like Call of Duty or ARMA, though they’re mentioned as their relevance can’t be ignored. So I apologize in advance for ignoring your favorite military shooters, but that is good news for all you Borderlands and Bioshock fans! Those are two of my favorites in the genre, with just a dash of Metroid Prime—I’d argue that’s a first-person adventure game, which is TOTALLY different, but that’s beyond our scope [ 13 ].
Scope, Depth, and Intent
To be clear, these articles are a glimpse into the history of a genre and this hobby’s evolution. This is a small peek into how teams were formed, alliances forged, and some characters came to be huge stars. Others have fallen to the wayside, forgotten. We’ll take in-depth looks at where a franchise really took off, or how it lost its way. While I don’t claim to be history buff, be it gaming, comics or otherwise, I do feel myself capable of discussing these, given how much I care. Thus, my qualifications to lead this expedition, with some brief segues into related topics that might not seem immediately related to video games as a whole.
First in this series, are Mario and Sonic. Appropriate, with a very big part of that article devoted to the Sega and Nintendo rivalry and where it all started [ 14 ]. This is in part that these companies were some of the first “big-time players” in modern gaming and one could argue that without Sega, Nintendo might not be the innovators we’ve come to know and love. One could also posit that without Nintendo, there’d be no modern games industry. This isn’t an exaggeration of their importance, mind you: Nintendo literally saved the video game industry from complete disintegration after a massive crash [ 15 ].
At the risk of turning this into a bullet-point list of what I intend to do and when, the coming articles will feature various subject matter, including two series that are very near and dear to my heart: Mega Man and Metroid. These two are action-adventure games dissimilar in style, but equally beloved in my youth (Metroid having the distinct honor of being my very first game). They’re my favorite series, holding a place in my heart above many others. Metroid itself, for all the lack of love Nintendo gives their flagship title with bounty hunter Samus Aran, is legendary. It, combined with Castlevania, even named the genre [ 16 ]! Mega Man doesn’t hold quite the same honor but has inspired many similar games with jumping and shooting mechanics. So infamous is this gameplay loop that it has inspired many memes and jokes about it [ 17 ].
So I ask: Why should you be invested? Who cares about these rambling odes to dusty cartridges? I hope to convey to you the love and respect for these franchises in a way that’s both engaging and entertaining. At least, given the level of our research, we may spur a deeper appreciation for the hobby’s icons and their rich history. It’s far from just some cute pixel monsters breathing fire. The love and respect for these characters, worlds, and creatures inhabiting them, underscore a deeper sense of why I and so many others remain so attached. It’s been the bonds that forged community, and camaraderie with so many others. To grasp why our hearts explode with joy at the thought of a new Super Mario game or how the excitement as we see an adaptation from pop culture, like the latest Marvel movie. The goal is to grant readers these insights, into what makes this woman in her early 30s feel like a kid again when she picks that first red and white ball, equips a Robot Masters weapon, or reads about men web-slinging across the New York skyline. To bestow a familiarity and appreciation for these classics of the modern era, in all their rich heritage. So if you’ll indulge us, let’s step through time, and bring a new generation into the fold with these lost classics; whether they’re too old to have grown up with them, or too young to imagine a world without their successors.
If nothing else, may these rambles about past, present and possible futures entertain, as we speculate; how they came to be, how they’ve grown and evolved, and the stumbling blocks along the way. Because every story has some tragedies. The story of video games is no different, both from within and without. So please, join me as I ask… Where are they now? And, additionally, where are they going?
- “Commissioned artwork by Rowan North’s Illustrations, 2021.” Source: Commissioned Art, Rowan North.
- “Why yes. Even our precious Link, across his many, many incarnations, will theoretically at some point age. Will we ever see those worry lines? Damien Canderle’s fanart gives us a glimpse.” Source: http://maddamart.com/Perso_22.htm (Damien Canderle, “Maddamart.com” copywrite 2010.
- “Will it all end for these digital gladiators peacefully? Are further and grander alliances spanning franchises in the works? Or do they face abrupt departures, reboots, or even worse, irrelevance?” Source: https://www.nintendolife.com/features/talking-point-thankyousakurai-for-smash-ultimate-now-he-should-choose-his-own-path.
A cosplayer who’s worked with Nerd Caliber and Cosplay Court Case, Juno Rebecca Delphi combines an academic approach to otherwise “flippant” subjects with significant attention to detail. In addition to her love of gaming, Juno’s an accomplished fiction writer, performer, and nerdy historian, but is most passionate when it comes to social justice and queer culture. Originally joining Steam-Funk Studios in 2014, Juno’s personal journey has been revelatory, as she continues to evolve.
- “The First Video Game?” Brookhaven National Laboratory, Department of Energy, bnl.gov/about/history/firstvideo.php. Accessed 2 April, 2020.
- Bay, Jason W. “How To Become A Video Game Journalist.” Game Industry Career Guide, Game Industry Career Guide, 22 Aug. 2015, gameindustrycareerguide.com/how-to-become-a-video-game-journalist.
- “Chrono Trigger.” Chrono Trigger, Square-Enix, chronotrigger.square-enix-games.com/en-US. Accessed 2 April, 2020.
- “PAX East—Boston, MA —Feb 27-Mar 1, 2020.” PAX East—Home, Penny Arcade, east.paxsite.com. Accessed 2 April, 2020.
- Marcotte, Amanda. “Gamergate Is Back, Because It Never Went Away: Zoë Quinn Faces New Round of Attacks.” Salon, Salon, 28 Aug. 2019, salon.com/2019/08/28/gamergate-2-0-zoe-quinn-accuses-game-developer-alec-holowka-of-abuse.
- Sita Nataraj, Slavov. “Regulating Violent Video Games: It’s Tipper Gore versus Dee Snider All over Again.” American Enterprise Institute—AEI, 15 Jan. 2013, aei.org/technology-and-innovation/regulating-violent-video-games-its-tipper-gore-versus-dee-snider-all-over-again.
- Lindbergh, Ben. “When the Culture Wars Came to Liberty City.” The Ringer, 22 Oct. 2021, theringer.com/2021/10/22/22739871/grand-theft-auto-iii-controversy-revisited.
- “Black In Black.” Ultimate Spider-Man, season 1, episode 8, Disney XD, 13 May 2012.
- WatchMojo.com. “Superhero Origins: The Green Lantern.” YouTube, YouTube, 12 Dec. 2010, youtube.com/watch?v=4YOuuuMi4CI.
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Windows PC version, BioWare, 2003.
- “What Makes Undertale One of the Best Games Ever?” G2A, G2A, 2 Apr. 2019, g2a.com/news/features/what-makes-undetale-one-of-the-best-games-ever/.
- “The Official Pokémon Website: Pokemon.co.uk: Explore the World of Pokémon.” The Official Pokémon Website | Pokemon.co.uk | Explore the World of Pokémon, Nintendo, pokemon.com/uk. Accessed 2 April 2020.
- IGN Staff. “Metroid a First Person Adventure?” IGN, j2 Global, 21 June 2012, ign.com/articles/2001/02/24/metroid-a-first-person-adventure.
- Kelion, Leo. “Sega v Nintendo: Sonic, Mario and the 1990’s Console War.” BBC News, BBC, 13 May 2014, bbc.com/news/technology-27373587.
- Ward, Cassidy. “Science Behind the Fiction: How Nintendo Saved and Redefined the Game Industry.” SYFY WIRE, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group, 5 June 2019, syfy.com/syfywire/science-behind-the-fiction-how-nintendo-saved-and-redefined-the-game-industry.
- “Metroidvania.” TV Tropes, TV Tropes, tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Metroidvania. Accessed 2 April, 2020.
- Egoraptor. “Sequelitis—Mega Man Classic vs. Mega Man X.” YouTube, YouTube, 31 Oct. 2011, youtube.com/watch?v=8FpigqfcvlM.