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Generations Defined By Video Games

Updated on March 26, 2020
Al Stine profile image

Postgraduate theoretical computer science scholar and a casual gamer with a strong preference for PC simulation and roleplaying games.

Source

The genesis of video games can be traced as far back as the early 1950s when computer scientists began designing simple games and simulations as part of their academic research or ways to relax and have fun. From humble beginnings, video games have now become important sources of entertainment. Generation after generation, their influence has gradually increased to become an integral part of human society and culture. The video game industry today is estimated at $100 billion globally and rapidly growing. It is for reason, video games have also become a huge source of income.

Source

The rapid growth and influence of video games were largely influenced by the rapid growth of computer technology. The advancements made in the video game industry coincided with the progress made in the field of computer science. For some time, computer processing power and word size was the most accurate indicator of a generation shift, with a very clear distinction between the 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit and 64-bit machines. Video game generations today are still closely defined with computer generations. However, it is difficult for most people to define a video game generation based on computer technology used. It is for this reason, prominent video games and consoles are sometimes used to define the generation of their inception. Currently, they are eight generations on record, however, the actual dates regarding when a generation starts and ends usually defer depending on what means one decides to use to define a generation. Regardless, every living person today lived in at least one generation defined by these video game consoles.

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1st Generation

1972-1977

The Magnavox Odyssey was released in 1972, it kickstarted the first generation of video game consoles. The first generation consoles were elementary in design, consisting of analogue circuits made up of transistors. These consoles had inbuilt game systems, removable game media were not common in this generation. The Magnavox Odyssey Pong video game was the only available game, it was inspired by games and demos produced on early computers. Most of the games in this era were different variations of the Pong game.

Magnavox Odyssey's Pong
Magnavox Odyssey's Pong | Source
Magnavox Odyssey, 1972.
Magnavox Odyssey, 1972. | Source

2nd Generation

1976-1983

The second generation of video game consoles is also described as the era of programmable ROM cartridges. Programmable cartridges led to software oriented video game designs. In the earlier generation, video games had the same pong game, but in different variations. This generation, however, had different types of games produced on different consoles. This led to the first known console wars. Atari 2600, Magnavox Odyssey and Intellivision all started producing different types of video games. Notable video games of this generation include; Pacman and Space Invaders.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
 Atari 2600, PacmanAtari 2600, Space Invaders.
 Atari 2600, Pacman
Atari 2600, Pacman | Source
Atari 2600, Space Invaders.
Atari 2600, Space Invaders. | Source
Atari 2600, 1977.
Atari 2600, 1977. | Source

3rd Generation

1983-1987

The third generation is also known as the 8-bit era. The strength of the 8-bit processor used by consoles in this generation was a considerable improvement in video game technology compared to previous generations. It is for this reason, the generation is also known as the 'modern' era video game generation. Nintendo Entertainment System was the dominant console of this era with stiff competition from Sega. This marked the beginning of Nintendo and Sega console wars.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Sega SG-1000, GalagaSega SG-1000, Load Runner
Sega SG-1000, Galaga
Sega SG-1000, Galaga | Source
Sega SG-1000, Load Runner
Sega SG-1000, Load Runner | Source
Sega SG-1000, 1983.
Sega SG-1000, 1983. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Nintendo Entertainment System's Super Mario Brothers, Released in 1983.Nintendo Entertainment System's Contra, released in 1992Nintendo Entertainment System's ExcitebikeNintendo Entertainment System's Ice climber.Nintendo Entertainment System's Tetris
Nintendo Entertainment System's Super Mario Brothers, Released in 1983.
Nintendo Entertainment System's Super Mario Brothers, Released in 1983. | Source
Nintendo Entertainment System's Contra, released in 1992
Nintendo Entertainment System's Contra, released in 1992 | Source
Nintendo Entertainment System's Excitebike
Nintendo Entertainment System's Excitebike | Source
Nintendo Entertainment System's Ice climber.
Nintendo Entertainment System's Ice climber. | Source
Nintendo Entertainment System's Tetris
Nintendo Entertainment System's Tetris | Source
Nintendo Entertainment System, 1985.
Nintendo Entertainment System, 1985. | Source

4th Generation

1987-1993

The 16-bit generation is notable for shifting the popularity of arcade based games towards home-based consoles. Arcade games had better quality games than consoles of the previous generations, but the fourth generation's 16-bit processor was able to drastically close the quality gap. Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) were the defining consoles of this generation. Notable games of the era included the inception of the beloved Sonic The Hedgehog which was Sega's response to Nintendo's successful Super Mario franchise.

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Sega Mega Drive's  Mortal Kombat, Released in 1992.Sega Mega Drive's Sonic The Hedgehog, Released in 1991.Sega Mega Drive's AladdinSega Mega Drive's Revenge of Shinobi. Sega Mega Drive's Bomberman.
Sega Mega Drive's  Mortal Kombat, Released in 1992.
Sega Mega Drive's Mortal Kombat, Released in 1992. | Source
Sega Mega Drive's Sonic The Hedgehog, Released in 1991.
Sega Mega Drive's Sonic The Hedgehog, Released in 1991. | Source
Sega Mega Drive's Aladdin
Sega Mega Drive's Aladdin | Source
Sega Mega Drive's Revenge of Shinobi.
Sega Mega Drive's Revenge of Shinobi. | Source
Sega Mega Drive's Bomberman.
Sega Mega Drive's Bomberman. | Source
Sega Genesis, Sometimes referred to as Sega Mega Drive, 1989.
Sega Genesis, Sometimes referred to as Sega Mega Drive, 1989. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Street Fighter II, Released in 1991.Super Nitendo Entertainment System, NBA Jam.Super Nitendo Entertainment System,  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Super Punch Out.Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Legend of Zelda.
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Street Fighter II, Released in 1991.
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Street Fighter II, Released in 1991. | Source
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, NBA Jam.
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, NBA Jam. | Source
Super Nitendo Entertainment System,  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. | Source
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Super Punch Out.
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Super Punch Out. | Source
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Legend of Zelda.
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Legend of Zelda. | Source
Super Nintendo Entertainment System, 1991.
Super Nintendo Entertainment System, 1991. | Source

5th Generation

1993-1998

The era that had 32-bit consoles, and later 64-bit consoles were developed. The fifth generation of video games saw the introduction of 3D graphics and compact disks. This era also saw the rise of Sony as a dominant force in the video game industry with the introduction of Sony's Playstation One. Sega also released the Sega Saturn console, and Nintendo launched the Nintendo 64 console. Compact disks became the norm in this era, with both Sony and Sega abandoning the use of cartridges. Nintendo however, maintained the use of cartridges on its Nintendo 64.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
 Nintendo 64, WWF No Mercy. Nintendo 64, Golden Eye 007, Released 1997.Nintendo 64's Mario Kart Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Star Wars Shadow Of The Empire released in 1996.Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Doom, Released in 1997.
 Nintendo 64, WWF No Mercy.
Nintendo 64, WWF No Mercy. | Source
Nintendo 64, Golden Eye 007, Released 1997.
Nintendo 64, Golden Eye 007, Released 1997. | Source
Nintendo 64's Mario Kart
Nintendo 64's Mario Kart | Source
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Star Wars Shadow Of The Empire released in 1996.
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Star Wars Shadow Of The Empire released in 1996. | Source
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Doom, Released in 1997.
Super Nitendo Entertainment System, Doom, Released in 1997. | Source
Nintendo 64, 1996.
Nintendo 64, 1996. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Sega Saturn's Sega Rally Championship Released in 1994.Sega Saturn, Resident Evil, Released in 1996.Sega Saturn's Night Into DreamsSega Saturn's Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter, released in 1997.Sega Saturn's Die Hard Arcade, Released in 1996.
Sega Saturn's Sega Rally Championship Released in 1994.
Sega Saturn's Sega Rally Championship Released in 1994. | Source
Sega Saturn, Resident Evil, Released in 1996.
Sega Saturn, Resident Evil, Released in 1996. | Source
Sega Saturn's Night Into Dreams
Sega Saturn's Night Into Dreams | Source
Sega Saturn's Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter, released in 1997.
Sega Saturn's Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter, released in 1997.
Sega Saturn's Die Hard Arcade, Released in 1996.
Sega Saturn's Die Hard Arcade, Released in 1996. | Source
Sega Saturn, 1995.
Sega Saturn, 1995. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Play Station 1's Tomb Raider released in 1996.Sony Play Station 1, Tekken 3, released in 1997. Sony Play Station 1, Spiderman.released in 2001.Sony Play Station 1, Crash Bandicoot, released in 1996.Sony Play Station 1, WWF Smackdown 2,
Play Station 1's Tomb Raider released in 1996.
Play Station 1's Tomb Raider released in 1996. | Source
Sony Play Station 1, Tekken 3, released in 1997.
Sony Play Station 1, Tekken 3, released in 1997. | Source
Sony Play Station 1, Spiderman.released in 2001.
Sony Play Station 1, Spiderman.released in 2001. | Source
Sony Play Station 1, Crash Bandicoot, released in 1996.
Sony Play Station 1, Crash Bandicoot, released in 1996.
Sony Play Station 1, WWF Smackdown 2,
Sony Play Station 1, WWF Smackdown 2, | Source
Sony's Play Station 1, 1995.
Sony's Play Station 1, 1995. | Source

6th Generation

1998-2005

The sixth-generation was the dawn of the 21st Century mode of gaming, the introduction of well defined online gameplay, mobile phone games and the use of DVDs. The excitement about the coming new millennium coupled with the euphoria of now heading into a new and futuristic millennium of technology greatly increased the demand for innovative forms of entertainment. The video game industry was able to take advantage of this euphoria. To kickstart the new Millenium, Sony released the Playstation 2 in 2000, donning a black and futuristic rectangular design. Nintendo released a cube-shaped Nintendo Gamecube, and Sega released the Sega Dreamcast. Sony's real competition came in 2001 when Microsoft entered the race with the Xbox gaming console. This generation also saw the shift of the console wars from the previous Nintendo-Sega war to a more recent Sony-Microsoft console war that still exists today. This generation marked the sad decline of Sega as a major giant in the gaming industry.

Sony's Play station 2, 2000.
Sony's Play station 2, 2000. | Source
Microsoft's Xbox 2001.
Microsoft's Xbox 2001. | Source
Nintendo's Gamecube, 2001.
Nintendo's Gamecube, 2001. | Source

7th Generation

2005-2012

The generation defined by the Sony-Microsoft console war at its highest peak. In the previous generation, Sony released the Playstation 2 in 2000, staking its claim for the throne first, Microsoft later challenged that claim with the release of the Xbox in 2001. This generation, however, Microsoft decided to stake its claim first by releasing the Xbox 360 in 2005. Sony released the Playstation 3 in 2006, in an attempt to retake the throne. The two gaming giants both featured very powerful gaming processors, high-definition graphics with HDMI connections. They had large hard disk-based secondary storage for games and downloaded content, integrated networking, and a companion on-line gameplay and sales platform. It is also the generation that ushered in wireless controllers.

Microsoft Xbox 360, 2005.
Microsoft Xbox 360, 2005. | Source
Sony's Play Station 3, 2006.
Sony's Play Station 3, 2006. | Source

Nintendo however, wisely decided to take a different approach instead of challenging the strength of the two gaming giants in terms of gaming power, it rather chose to emphasize gameplay. Comparatively simple games such as Wii Sports and Wii Fit became increasingly popular, making Nintendo Wii the best selling Nintendo home console and a surprising runaway leader of the seventh generation of consoles.

Nintendo Wii, 2006.
Nintendo Wii, 2006. | Source

8th Generation

2012- Current

The eighth-generation is the current generation of consoles. Sony and Microsoft used the lessons learned in the previous generation and adopted a more diverse and innovative approach to their gaming consoles. Though the Sony-Microsoft console wars continued, the two giants have since opted to use exclusives as a means to attract gaming consumers in addition to improved gaming power and experience.

The successor to the popular Nintendo Wii was launched in 2012 named the Wii U. It signaled the start of the eighth generation of consoles. Sony's Playstation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One all debuted in 2013, with notable exclusive games and features. The Nintendo Wii U was unfortunately not as successful as its predecessor and was unable to compete with the new approach from the two gaming giants Microsoft and Sony. The Nintendo Wii U's production was discontinued in 2017 and in the same year, Nintendo released a new flagship home console, the Nintendo Switch.

Sony's Play Station 4, 2013.
Sony's Play Station 4, 2013. | Source
Microsoft XboxOne, 2013.
Microsoft XboxOne, 2013. | Source
Nitendo Switch, 2017
Nitendo Switch, 2017 | Source

Next Generation?

The next generation of consoles is expected to start in the fall of 2020. Sony's Play Station 5 and Microsofts Xbox Series X are all expected before the end of 2020. Nintendo's Switch 2 or Pro is also expected in early 2021. The next generation of gaming consoles is expected to be the most exciting to date. The gaming consoles are expected to present a credible challenge to computer gaming machines in terms of processing power. Computer gaming machines are referred to as the 'Master Race' for good reason, not only do they form the foundation on which the consoles are made, but they can also transcend different generations of gaming consoles. It is for this reason, computer gaming machines are not used to define generations of video games. Regardless, the next generation of videogame consoles promises to be big, the introduction of VR technology means more gaming possibilities are available.


Which Generation Of Video Game Consoles Defines You?

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References

  1. Donovan, Tristan (2010). Replay: The History of Video Games. East Sussex: Yellow Ant. ISBN 978-0956507204.
  2. Williams, Andrew (March 16, 2017). History of Digital Games: Developments in Art, Design and Interaction. CRC Press. ISBN 9781317503811.
  3. Wolf, Mark (2007). The Video Game Explosion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0313338687.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 AL

Comments

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    • Al Stine profile imageAUTHOR

      AL 

      8 weeks ago from South Equator, East Pacific

      Actually you're right Vladdy, its 48 Years since the first video game, thats not so ancient. I still play too, I prefer single player adventure and open world games, I am not good at online games, too competitive.

    • Vladimir Krust profile image

      Vladdy 

      8 weeks ago from Indianapolis, Indiana.

      Actually I have played them, First video game came out less than 50 years ago so i dont even have to be that old to have played the first ones. I still play online if time allows, ill invite you.

    • MisterHubs1982 profile image

      Michael Rivers 

      8 weeks ago from North Carolina

      Thanks for the response! Looking forward to your next article.

    • Al Stine profile imageAUTHOR

      AL 

      8 weeks ago from South Equator, East Pacific

      Thanks, Vladdy,

      I don't think you played games from the first two generations, I believe you are not that old. I can only remember playing a later revised version of Pong, Pacman and Space Invaders, not the original versions.

    • Al Stine profile imageAUTHOR

      AL 

      8 weeks ago from South Equator, East Pacific

      Thanks Micheal Rivers,

      I was born in the fourth generation, the gaming consoles that we could afford were from the 3rd generation, so I had the privilege of playing games from 6/8 generations.

      I never had the NES, but I had a console called Ending Man, that looked like a Sega Megadrive console and had all the games the NES had, I tried to look for it on the internet but I couldn't find it.

      PC gaming wasn't included, as I explained in the article, PC gaming has no defined generations. A PC launched in 2007, with the right upgraded hardware can play a game released in 2020 or in 1989, so it is difficult to classify PC gaming generations.

      Thanks again.

    • MisterHubs1982 profile image

      Michael Rivers 

      8 weeks ago from North Carolina

      I was born during the tail end of the 2nd Generation, but didn't start my passion of the Gaming Arena until the 3rd Generation, with my first Nintendo Entertainment System; I'm talking the FULL SET (System, Controller, Zapper, Power Pad, and the 3-n-1 Game Pak of Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and World Class Track Meet). I'm guessing this article is focused on the Console Generations as opposed to PC Gaming, which is still new territory for me, despite my age and understanding of the genre. Looking forward to reading more from you. You gained a follower, fellow enthusiast.

    • Vladimir Krust profile image

      Vladdy 

      8 weeks ago from Indianapolis, Indiana.

      Great article, just made me realize just how old I am. I remember almost all the games in the first 4 generations.

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