“Every age has its storytelling form, and video gaming is a huge part of our culture. You can ignore or embrace video games and imbue them with the best artistic quality. People are enthralled with video games in the same way as other people love the cinema or theatre.”—Andy Serkis
Ahh gaming. It’s maybe it’s one of the few things in the world that can truly unite the so called “geeks” and the jocks. Maybe you’re a big PC gamer, maybe you were born and bred on the consoles, or maybe you’re a handheld loyalist, but people from just about every walk of life nowadays can bond over the shared experience of playing video games. From the arcade to arenas full of screaming fans, video games have evolved along with our fashion trends, forming a long and rich history. Here are 42 finger-numbing facts about this sometimes beloved, sometimes reviled medium.
1. Sensitive Artist
Whether they’re into creative writing or not, pretty much every young gamer has, at one point, thought “I’d love to write for video games!” The tendency might be to assume that writing a video game is no different than writing an article or a novel, but in reality the video game design process is all about collaboration. For many video games, a studio developer comes up with the general idea for a story and writers (along with technicians and designers) have to collaborate to see what can be done within the limits of the technology. In some cases, the game designers will be the ones to dictate the story since they have the mechanical know-how to make their epic fight scenes work. Rarely does a single person simply sit down and write a video game, like one might with other forms of story telling.
2. Best Sellers
Surprisingly, or maybe not, Tetris is still going strong. As of 2017, the classic has managed to sell an absolutely whopping 170 million copies, the most of any game ever. You might not think of picking Tetris up at the store, but the version someone might get for their phone still counts as a copy. Plus, Tetris has the added advantage of having been out for almost 35 years, an undeniable leg-up in the race. Rounding out the top five best selling games are Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto V, Wii Sports, and Super Mario Bros., respectively.
3. Do it Live
James Cameron’s Avatar might be one of the most popular examples of motion capture, where real actors’ movements and facial expressions are used as a reference for a digital character. However, this technology is increasingly popular in video games as well. Video games are generally more “actor-driven” nowadays. A good example is the game Beyond Two Souls, which featured stars like Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page doing motion-capture and lending their likenesses for gamers’ enjoyment. Motion capture is also prominently used in The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V, among others. Motion capture began with the ability to capture body movements, but has evolved since to also capture facial movements, lending a degree of realism that gamers only dreamed about for years.
4. From Mother Russia
1984 might have a sinister connotation, since we tie it to George Orwell’s dystopian novel, however, it was also the year that gave us Tetris. Alexey Pajitnov created the game while he was an employee at the Academy of Science of the USSR. Unfortunately, the academy held onto the copyright until 1996. Big business, am I right? Once Pajitnov got the rights to his own game back, he exported it to the US, making it the first game to exported from the USSR to the USA.
Console video games (Xbox, PS4, Wii etc.) can sometimes cost more than $80 a piece, especially when the game is new. As consumers, we might understand that pricing a little more if we consider all the money that goes into making a big video game. Currently, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the most expensive video game of all time, costing a whopping $279 million to make. Grand Theft Auto V follows closely (everything’s relative) behind at $272 million.
While Pong might be the oldest video game that most people know, it’s far from the first—it’s not even the first video game based on tennis! Physicist William Higinbotham developed the first recreational video game while working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. In October 1958, the laboratory held its annual visitor’s day. In order to “liven up” the exhibit, Higinbotham decided to alter one of its instruments. A small analog computer included a display similar to a radar which displayed curves and the path of objects across it. With assistance from technician Robert Dorvak, Higinbotham was ready to debut Tennis for Two two weeks later. Similar to pong, the purpose of the game was to move the ball from one side of the court to another. A button allowed players to hit the ball, and a knob allowed players to adjust the its angle. Once the ball was on your end, you would hit it as long as you hit the button, but if the angle was off the ball wouldn’t make it over the net.
7. Told you mom!
There’s a growing body of research that says playing video games may actually have its benefits. Now, if you play 12+ hours a day at the sake of hygiene or a career or both, that could certainly be a problem. However, video games do help children develop hand-eye coordination. Aside from the more physical side of things, there are also studies showing video games can help users with leadership skills and self-esteem. If you’ve listened to the trolls on Xbox Live, you might notice the exact opposite effect on your self-esteem, but the point still stands.
8. Video Games Saved My Life
….and How They Will Save Yours.” This is actually the title of a 2016 Ted talk by Zhenghua Yang, a video game developer. When Yang was 18, he was diagnosed with a blood disorder. Through League of Legends, Yang made an online friend who was a medical researcher. This researcher then connected Yang to doctors who were able to literally save his life. Yang still doesn’t know the researcher’s real name, but thanks to them he’s still alive and successful today. Try your best to think of this heartwarming story the next time a preteen is yelling at you over voice-chat.
9. Make it Rain
We all know that video games are a big industry, but we might not realize just how much money video games, as a whole, actually generate. In 2017, total sales of video games accounted for over $109 billion in revenue. Whoof.
10. Time Flies When You’re Having Fun
Don’t we all wish we had more time work out, learn how to play an instrument, learn a new language? Well, it seems like many of us had thousands of free hours that we devoted to something else. In 2013, it was estimated that the average teenager will spend 10,000 hours playing video games by the time they are 21. I don’t think that’s what Malcolm Gladwell was suggesting in that book though…
11. Home Console
When people think about the early days of the video game console, they usually think back to something like the Sega Genesis, which came out in 1988, or the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which hit stores in 1983, but these were actually released over a decade after consoles first arrived. The first recognized home video game console was 1972’s Magnavox Odyssey. It had no sound and its display was limited to dots, yet it still sold 100 million units. Aren’t people so picky these days?
12. Hot Commodity
Super Mario, Donkey Kong and The Legend of Zelda are undeniably three of the biggest video game franchises of all time, and they’ve all created games that have been considered perhaps the greatest ever. The fact that these all come from Nintendo is impressive enough, but what’s more amazing is that they were all created by Shigeru Myomoto, widely recognized as the most influential game designer of all time.
13. Neglected Pet
Donkey Kong is now a video game icon in his own right, but he actually began as Mario’s pet. The original Donkey Kong (1981) featured Donkey Kong and Mario, who was known as Jumpman at the time. Since Mario apparently wasn’t a good owner, his pet ape escaped and took Marios’ love interest, Pauline. I think I side with Donkey Kong on this one.
14. Promoting Reading
As of 2013, about 15% of libraries in the US checked out video games in addition to books. Some of these libraries also feature stations that allow users to play while in the building, like a Best Buy with more bookshelves. Although video games and books might not seem like a match made in heaven, studies show that the number of borrowed books actually increased once video games were added to the libraries. A bit of sugar to help the medicine go down, so to speak.
15. By Hand
Although computer generated imagery and motion capture are becoming more popular, hand animation is still a key part of video game development. While some games may use motion capture for their characters, hand animation is still vital for backgrounds and furnishings such as trees. The Canadian developer Studio MDHR took this one step further in 2017 when it released Cuphead, a game in which 100% of the animation was actually hand-drawn in the style of early cartoons.
Based on Metacritic’s ratings, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time is still the best reviewed video game of all time. Metacritic gets its ratings by compiling all of a game’s online reviews and then using the average. Ocarina of Time stands at #1 with a critic score of 99/100 and a user score of 9.2/10. Is Saria’s Song stuck in your head now? If it wasn’t, is it now?
17. No tip?
The Grand Theft Auto series is almost synonymous with controversy, due to the public outrage the games receive for their level of adult themes. Despite all the controversy, Thailand still stands as the only country to outright ban all GTA titles; a case of life imitating art led the government to do so. In 2008, 19-year-old Polwat Chino fatally stabbed a taxi driver after the driver took him to his destination. Chino then said that GTA made it seem easy.
18. M for Mortal Kombat
Whether you play games or not, you probably remember commercials announcing “E for Everyone” or “M for Mature.” These ratings come from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), but it didn’t always exist—that is, until Mortal Kombat hit the scene. Prior to Mortal Kombat’s 1993 release, video games were still viewed as a medium for children. Hence, no need for a rating system. Mortal Kombat was part of the industry’s “coming of age,” along with other properties like Doom. Upon their release, Senator Joe Lieberman dedicated an entire press conference to the corrupting influence of video games, and soon after the rating system was introduced as a way to avoid state regulation. Obviously, Mortal Kombat got an M rating.
19. Silver Screen Blues
When it comes to movies based on video games, even a mediocre showing is seen as a triumph. Case in point, this year’s Tomb Raider is one of the best reviewed video game movies of all time, even though the general consensus is that it’s little more than a passable blockbuster. Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider series and Resident Evil emerge as two other cinematic video game successes, and let’s be real, neither of those was exactly Citizen Kane. And if these are the successes, you can just imagine how bad the failures are.
20. Mr What?
Remember how we touched on the video game development process being limited by technology? Well Sonic the Hedgehog was originally supposed to be a rabbit. However, rabbit ears were deemed to hard to animate, and the development team needed to find a work around. They knew they wanted a character that would roll into a ball and travel through tubes, so they decided to use animals that rolled up as inspiration. Eventually, they settled on a hedgehog and a better name than the working one: Mr. Needlemouse.
21. New Borrowing from the Old
If you ever find yourself wandering through a museum of ancient video games (I bet that exists somewhere!) you might happen upon a strange white box that looks exactly like a Sony Playstation 2. But upon close inspection, you’d realize that this wasn’t a Playstation, nor was it even made by Sony. It’s something called an Atari Falcon Microbox—the little-known Atari PC that inspired the design of the PS2. Now, these two machines are so similar it seems like there must have been a lawsuit involved, but don’t worry! Sony bought the rights to the Microbox after Atari went bankrupt, and specifically used its design for their console. Good call, since the PS2 ended up doing pretty alright as far as sales go.
22. Old School
Tetris is the reigning king in terms of units sold, but in terms of revenue, 1978’s Space Invaders still stands at #1 with $13.93 billion. Pac-Man ($12.81 billion), and Street Fighter II ($10.61) billion follow close behind. All three have boosted sales from the popular arcade market of the 80s and 90s, back when countless quarters would be sacrificed to the neon gods. World of Warcraft stands as the fourth highest selling game of all time, in terms of revenue, with over $9.3 billion to date. WOW is the only top entry on the top four that was also not boosted by arcade sales, though it of course is boosted by its subscription service model.
23. Dying Breed
Massively multiplayer online (MMO) games are considered some of the riskiest ventures in the industry, mainly due to the expenses involved. Creating a truly open world for players to interact in is expensive and time-consuming. Then there’s the issue of ensuring customers join and stay long-term to help the company recoup its expenses. Many games have been forced to abandon the subscription based strategy—with World of Warcraft’s commitment to $14.99/month being an exception—and have begun to use the microtransaction sales-model, where players must pay for certain exclusive in game features like unique items or expanded content.
M for Mature might be a pretty popular rating, but most people may not know about the rating one level above it. Adults Only (AO) is for players 18+, while M is for 17+. Despite the fact that there’s only a one-year difference between M and AO, American retailers typically will not stock AO items, meaning that they’re only available online. Such games include 2015’s Hatred, a widely panned game that features a protagonist on a mission to kill as many people as possible. Perhaps the most popular AO game of all time was 2004’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
25. Last Minute Decision
Part of Super Smash Bros.’s appeal is the ability to pick your favourite Nintendo character and have them face off against others. However, Nintendo director Masahiro Sakurai originally did not want to include Nintendo characters in the game; he wanted to call the game Dragon King: The Fighting Game and use generic characters. However, he eventually relented, and I’ll be the first person to say: good thing he did!
26. Eye Exam
Eye strain is a real issue for those who play video games too much, but a study by McMaster University professors shows that moderate gameplay can actually help eyesight. The study used six patients with a rare cataract disorder and had them play 40 hours of 2012’s Medal of Honor. The sessions were broken up into two hours per day, five days a week, over a month. By the end of the study, five of the patients showed improved sight, moving closer to 20/20 from baselines of 20/32 or 20/100. The patients also recognized faces better, could better judge the direction of moving dots and could see small print better.
27. 2000s kid
Despite all the newer tech introduced since its debut in 2000, the PS2 is still the best selling video game console of all time, with over 155 million units sold as of 2018. Only time will tell if another system comes along to knock it off the throne.
28. Land of the Rising Sun
The Xbox 360 remains Microsoft’s best-selling console, with 84 million units sold. However, less than two million of those units were sold in Japan, where Sony and Nintendo have long dominated the video game market.
29. Rolls of the Tongue
When Crash Bandicoot was released by Naughty Dog Inc., they were happy with their cool, edgy marsupial mascot, but that doesn’t mean that Crash wasn’t the only critter they thought about going with. Other ideas included Willy the Wombat, Wuzzle the Wombat and Ozzie the Ottsel. In case you were wondering, an ottsel is obviously a combination between an otter and a weasel, and you might have actually seen one before; the loveable sidekick Daxter from Naughty Dog’s later game Jak and Daxter gets turned into an ottsel almost immediately and stays that way for the whole series.
30. The Sailor Man
The first Donkey Kong was originally supposed to be a Popeye game. Popeye was going to to have Mario’s place as the protagonist, Olive Oyl would serve as the damsel and Bluto would be the villain. When Nintendo lost the license to the game, they were forced to come up with their own characters. Honestly? I think it ended up working out for them.
31. Side Effect
Grand Theft Auto was originally supposed to be Race ‘n’ Chase, a game where players completed vehicle-based missions as a either a cop or a criminal. When the beta testers were playing as criminals, the developers had issues with preventing the officers’ cars from crashing into other civilians and the player’s car. However, the developers soon realized that the testers enjoyed this aspect of the game and they began to work on a modified game where the main player would always be on the run. Race ‘n’ Chase became Grand Theft Auto and DMA Design became Rockstar North—another pivot that seems to have turned out quite well.
For years, there was one simple piece of knowledge that truly separated those who played video games from those who did not. How many embarrassed children had to point out to their naive parents that the green-clad character on the screen was, of course, not Zelda. Zelda’s the princess, you’re talking about Link, duh! This iconic character owes his classic look to Peter Pan, according to creator Shigeru Miyamoto. The long hat and long ears were borrowed from Disney’s version of the classic character, of which Miyamoto was a fan. The name Link was then used because the character travels through time, a literal link between past and present. Then, in case people didn’t get the idea, the third Zelda was flat-out called The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
33. The Red Carpet
San Francisco’s Metreon building used to host a “Walk of Game,” a walk of fame dedicated to video game characters and the people behind them. Character inductees included Link, Mario, Halo’s Master Chief, while figure inductees included Nolan Bushnell, the creator of Pong and co-founder of Atari. Sadly, not long after its creation, the building housing the Walk of Game was sold, converted into a Target, and the Walk was removed.
Nintendo is still a strong figure in the video game industry, with its Smash Bros. and Mario Kart series, among others, continuing to fly off the shelves. However, Nintendo is also responsible for industry-wide innovations that its competitors rely on. It was the Nintendo 64 (my first system) that popularized the analog thumbstick, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) that introduced the directional pad, and the Super Nintendo that introduced left and right shoulder buttons, all of which are synonymous with video game controllers today.
As of October 2017, the Nintendo DS still stands as the best-selling handheld console to date, beating competition like the PSP and Game Boy. The DS reigns with 154 million units sold, which also makes it the second highest selling console of all time, next to the PS2.
36. Not Canon
Anyone who played the 1991 Simpsons arcade game might have come across some odd imagery, specifically a few scenes featuring Marge Simpson with what appeared rabbit ears. The rabbit ears were one of creator Matt Groening’s ideas, probably an homage to his earlier work, a comic strip called Life in Hell that featured anthropomorphic rabbits. Groening wanted the ears to be revealed later in the show, implying the iconic Marge hairstyle was simply a practical way to hide the ears, but this idea was emphatically shot down by the rest of the show’s creative team. Although this idea never made it into the show, the arcade game ran with it, and you can actually see Marge’s rabbit ears hiding under her hair in two of the game’s animations.
37. Weird Looking Turtle
Ever wondered why Bowser, seemingly a turtle, has horns and a muzzle? These features are likely a holdover from his original design, where the creator wanted him to be an ox.
38. Failure to Success
The original Sony Playstation is currently the fourth highest selling console of all time, with 102.4 million units sold. The Playstation was also the first console to ship more than 100 million units. Originally, Sony was negotiating with Nintento to build an add-on for the Super Nintendo. When that partnership fell apart, Sony went ahead and made their own system, which then competed with the Nintendo 64. It’s hard to image what the world of video games would look like today had that deal gone through.
39. Fan Theories
A small detail that many Starfox fans (myself included) may not have noticed are the silver boots that all of the characters wear. A popular fan theory is that the boots are actually metal prosthetics. Real-life pilots wear G-suits, which are tight enough to prevent blood draining from their brain and rushing to their legs during flight. Since none of the characters in Starfox wear G-suits, fans began to think that the characters may be amputees, which would put them at less risk of passing out. Nintendo has yet to confirm, but I’m going to go with… maybe not the case..
40. You’re Fighting a Losing Battle, Nintendo
Would you believe it if I said that Nintendo once bought the rights to two Super Mario adult parodies? It’s true! Now granted, they only did so to make sure that the films stopped being distributed and hurting the child oriented brand, but still, that credit card statement might have been hard to explain!
Nintendo 64’s GoldenEye is today remembered as a classic mainly because of its multiplayer mode, which you’ve likely played if you or any of your friends were gamers in the late ’90s. Surprisingly though, the multiplayer portion of the game actually wasn’t approved by the studio’s directors. The development team went ahead and added it in the last few weeks of the game’s production, accidentally creating a phenomenon that helped to popularize first-person shooters. As a Halo fan, I thank them.
42. Going Strong
Tetris is the aforementioned best selling game in terms of units sold, but it’s also the most “ported” game, meaning it has been translated to the most platforms or systems. Tetris has been ported to 65+ different computer game platforms thus far.
43. Still Saving Lives
Ever heard of laparoscopic surgery? Basically, it involves making small incisions in the body so that a camera and instruments can be inserted and then controlled remotely by joysticks. You see where I’m going with this. For this particular form of surgery, at least three hours of playing video games a week was actually tied to making fewer mistakes—37% fewer mistakes to be exact. Video games require largely the same skills as laparoscopic surgery, including motor skills, reaction time and hand-eye coordination. If a situation ever arises where you need laparoscopic surgery, ask your doctor if they play video games. If they say no, you turn and you run.