In this week’s Split Screen, Andrew Testerman and Mark Purcell relive their horrifying experiences in the trenches of that first terrible conflict
Mark: I’m sure once Microsoft announces its new Xbox, the console wars will once again reignite. Which makes me wonder where these disputes originally came from. Even to this day people are bickering between the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis (or Megadrive). It seems as if gamers have historically felt the need to validate their purchases by belittling the competitors. Maybe if we look back at the 1990s, and the feud between Team SNES and Team Genesis we can get to the bottom of these console wars. What do you think Andrew?
Andrew: Ah, the old console wars chestnut, huh? Seems like the 16-bit era’s a good place to start. Not like there weren’t face-offs between other machines – I’m sure Atari and Colecovision fans shared terse words with each other at one point – but for Gen Y-ers like myself, it’s the classic face-off. The Coke versus Pepsi, the Disney versus Don Bluth, the Jay-Z versus Nas of video games. Friendships have been torn apart and long-term rivalries have continued even to this day. You were either Sega or you were Nintendo, and if you were into video games during the 90s, you picked a side. No questions asked, no questions needed.
You mentioned the word “validate,” and I think that’s a big part of why such outrageous beef could start over which toy someone bought. These machines both cost around $200 when they first came out, an insane amount of money for a second grader to even try to fathom – imagine how many lawns you would have to mow! There was no owning both (unless you were that kid down the street you who had every Power Rangers toy), meaning that you couldn’t play every game. You wanted to feel like you made the right decision by committing so much time and money to one machine, and the best way to do that is to mercilessly cut down the opponent’s choice. You got a Genesis? Pfft, what controller has three buttons? Lame.
Mark: My situation was a bit different. My Genesis was a Christmas present and I enjoyed it. However, my friend Pat had a Super Nintendo, and it was awesome! I would always go over to his house to play Link to the Past or Legend of Mana. At that time, I was never concerned about which console was better. It just happened that I connected with the games the SNES supplied over the Genesis. Sonic was fun but I would get bored quickly, and Mortal Kombat with the blood code was pretty cool. But even to this day I don’t play those games, but I still play those JRPGs from the SNES.
Maybe it was because my Genesis was a present that I didn’t care to make the “Best console ever” claim. Years later when I bought a PlayStation with my own money, I sure as hell had to brag about how much cooler it was than the Nintendo 64. There is a place and a time to critique each console’s differences, but I don’t consider these differences important. I think what defines a console (pre-internet) are the games they offer, and the memories we attach to them.
Andrew: That’s definitely a huge part of it, especially now that many gamers who were raised on the Genesis and SNES are now grown men and women. It’s almost like we’re defending our memories against claims that we weren’t actually having fun. That’s why I think we can still get into these sorts of debates nowadays. We had five long years of smash mouth advertising, hearing that Genesis does what Nintendon’t, and as impressionable youngsters, that sort of thing is hard to unlearn – even after close to 20 years since both competitors were in their prime. Who wants to admit that their childhood, unbeknownst to them, actually sucked?
It was much more fun to debate game consoles back in the day, anyway. Like you mentioned, the arena for a console deathmatch wasn’t the internet, but the playground or a friend’s house, face-to-face. There was no meta-narrative between the two machines, apart from inflammatory marketing and system-specific game publications (same diff, really, in those days), leaving it up to you to trot out your favorite games against whatever challenger stepped up to your infinite wisdom. No trolls, no memes, just your pure, unmovable certainty that Genesis is better because it has the best version of Disney’s Aladdin.
Mark: I swear, whenever I try to talk about SNES and Genesis, someone has to bring up Aladdin. It may be the only thing that the Genesis did better than the Super Nintendo. You know what Andrew, go ahead and keep Aladdin, us real gamers know what really matters: Zelda, Chrono Trigger, Ninja Turtles, and I could go on and on.
Kidding aside, I agree the days where these console wars happened in person were much more fun. Maybe we were brainwashed by the marketing campaigns, but at least we were having fun doing it with our friends. Nowadays it’s just bickering on Twitter or forum pages, where it seems people only disagree just to disagree. Maybe these console wars are more of a product of capitalism than they are of gamer pride.
Andrew: I think you’ve found the real nugget, there. The hard truth is that Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, they don’t care about you – they care about getting your business. Granted, happy fan bases often make happy consumers, but it’s important to keep in mind that they sell video games to make money, full stop. That’s why the whole console war thing seems silly nowadays: it’s basically rooting for one billion-dollar, multinational company to win a battle for market share against another billion-dollar, multinational company.
Not that I don’t still get momentary spasms of brand loyalty, mind. Like I said, it’s hard to just unlearn that sort of thing.
That said, it’s still fun to chat about the merits of one console versus another, and friendly arguments about small stuff like console preference can be great fun. It’s the reason why those Buzzfeed list articles are so popular: people like to have their choices validated, or to disagree in favor of their own opinions. I’m totally up for reminiscing about why the Game Boy was the best because you could drop it out of a third-story window and it would still play, or why the PlayStation was superior because of the Nintendo 64’s deficiency of JRPG/dating sims. That sort of thing is fun, but remember that’s all it is: fun.
Mark: Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Goldeneye is a great example. I used to have the greatest time playing that with my friends, but I try to play it today and it’s the worst game ever. Yet when I think about the game I only remember the good times, and not how terribly it has aged.
Who knows, maybe in 20 years we will still be bickering about the PS4 and the Next Xbox… and the WiiU. Haha, I kid, I kid, that will never happen.
Andrew: Exactly. Everyone knows that the Wonderswan Color is going to make a grand return and own everyone, anyway.