Take one look at the Xbox One and PlayStation 4's most heavily touted features, and of the many things these two consoles have in common, one shared ability taps into a trend that's overtaken gaming culture in recent years: Streaming video.
Streaming has become an incredibly huge business, replete with rags-to-riches stories about kids who started YouTube channels in their tiny apartments or dorm rooms and now command larger audiences than professionally staffed gaming websites. (No offense to my kind hosts at USgamer, of course.) Tell this news to a person living 20 years in the past, and they'd likely think the near future has declined into a Videodrome-like hellscape. And while they'd be partially correct, this whole "watching people play video games" thing started way back then, with a little, barely watchable show called Nick Arcade.
As Nintendomania swept the United States throughout the early '90s, bringing us into a heated brother-against-brother Console War, the mainstream media rarely acknowledged gaming outside of making a cheap joke -- think Louis wanting to play Super Mario Bros. instead of getting down and dirty with Janine in Ghostbusters 2. Sure, you'd occasionally see a sitcom character brandish a generic joystick while some stock Atari VCS sound effects played in the background, but games' status as toys made them nothing more than the occasional prop.
Awful as it was, the short-lived GamePro TV represented a major step forward for media about games, even if kids had to suffer through the antics of a scratch-and-dent bin Bill and Ted to see that sweet, sweet video game footage. A full year after GamePro TV ascended to Syndication Heaven, Nick Arcade rose from its ashes, fully embracing the idea of kids sure loving those damned video games.
It should be said, though, that Nick Arcade maybe leaned a little too hard on the first word of its title than the last. Picking up off of the huge success Double Dare (and Family Double Dare, and Super Sloppy Double Dare...), Nick Arcade also featured the standard Q&A trivia as grown-up game shows, though this element mostly showcased awkward children fumbling their way through simple questions while host Phil Moore tried his best to not let any hostility leak through his genial façade. And, before an episode Nick Arcade showed second one of any actual games, viewers would have to suffer through its lame, digital board gaming framing device -- which no team ever seemed to finish -- as well as some simple, proprietary mini-games helped into being by Psygnosis for reasons unknown. But when Kids Like You finally got their chance to play actual video games for upwards of a minute at a time, Nick Arcade became... marginally better.
As Millennials age and our fascination with the '90s has supplanted Generation X's fascination with the '80s -- sorry about that, guys -- you don't have to go far to find narcissistic, nostalgia-clouded accounts of the past. But even to kids at the time, Nick Arcade wasn't all that great, even if we couldn't stop watching it. The show rewarded us in those media-starved times, though, by giving us a glimpse of games we'd only seen blurry images of in magazines -- so it didn't really matter that the kids playing them did such a horrible job. If you'd barely heard of Kabuki Quantum Fighter, Toki, or Magician Lord (What early-'90s kid could afford a Neo-Geo?), the brief Video Challenge segments on Nick Arcade provided just enough info to get you dreaming about how the rest of the game could possibly play out. Kids on their Floridian vacation picked to participate in one of many tapings that day might not have been able to get a grip on the Sega Genesis' Green Dog, but seeing their failure could convince you of your own superiority, and influence you to avoid a game entirely.
These segments didn't add up to much more than a few minutes per episode, but if the producers knew how much kids enjoyed watching video games in action, Nick likely would have rethought their approach. That said, following Nick Arcade, we once had an entire cable network devoted to video games alone, though said network has since folded in favor of bringing subscribers quality mentertainment -- but that could just be the result of unrealistic expectations. Much as my Super Nintendo-owning self would watch, captivated, as friends tore through Genesis games, Nick Arcade proved that kids would gladly suffer through bargain basement Nickelodeon production values -- as my peers and I all did -- if only to see a few seconds of something Electronic Gaming Monthly had mentioned in passing.
Thankfully, the democratization of content brought on by YouTube and other media outlets has made it so gaming footage no longer needs to be buried under unrelated content and a gauntlet basic cable hosts. I've only dabbled in streaming here and there, but I've carried my latent Nick Arcade addiction far into the future, and probably don't go a day without watching a video or reading a thread devoted to someone other than me playing a game. And if you're still not convinced that Nick Arcade tapped into our latent desire to watch other people play games, you may be led to believe that its final, interactive Video Zone segment might have predicted our little hobby's future. After all, our modern world has no shortage of barely functional motion-controlled games that serve no purpose other than making us feel incredibly awkward and ashamed.
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