How Nintendo's NES console changed gaming

How Nintendo helped redefine the way we interact with our games forever.

Of course, nothing lasts forever, and the NES' time in the spotlight eventually ended. Gaming as a whole matured, and so too did the language; a linguistic analogy would be modern English, which evolved from an old world hodge-podge of Latin, Germanic, and Celtic influences (among countless others), and continues to be changed and altered on a regular basis today. It still bears a resemblance to the form it took during its early stages of existence, but its current incarnation is clearly a more evolved and complicated beast. New concepts like analog sticks and shoulder buttons have expanded the alphabet and grammar of gaming, and controllers like the DualShock 3, with its rechargeable battery, wireless connectivity, and multitude of buttons, make the NES controller seem positively ancient by comparison. But today's sophisticated controllers clearly owe a debt of gratitude to Nintendo's original, as they're just a more advanced form of the same concept.

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The same holds true for the next evolutionary step for gamers: motion controls. This gesture-based method of interaction has the potential to move us away from the standard set by Nintendo back in 1983. Fittingly, Nintendo is once again on the forefront of this movement with its innovative Wii Remote and Nunchuk, but Microsoft and Sony have also invested heavily in the technology with Kinect and the PlayStation Move, respectively. The standard handheld controller won't be replaced any time soon-the same way physical storage mediums have yet to be replaced by digital distribution as predicted by pundits for years -- but it's clear that the language of gaming is headed in a direction where the ubiquitous handheld controller could one day be rendered obsolete, the same way Latin and other "dead" languages fell by the wayside in favor of new ones. But even though these technologies are having their own transformative and disruptive effect on the status quo, they are simply a variation on the same theme Nintendo addressed so many years ago: that of effectively and intuitively bridging the gap between the gamer and the action on the screen.

While the visuals and gameplay get all the love and attention, it can be argued that the tactile component is more important simply because it is the most direct connection we have to the games we play. It allows us to not only interact with the games we love but to exert a tangible measure of control over them. This is why the language of gaming is so important: without a shared system of concepts and ideas to frame our interactions with the games we play, the industry would essentially devolve into a chaotic environment akin to the one left behind after the fall of the Tower of Babel. Each developer would dictate its own rules of interaction, which would only breed confusion; imagine if each first-person shooter had its own distinct control scheme-you would essentially have to retrain yourself every time you put in a new disc.

While diversity is important and still exists in terms of control layouts and game design, the gaming industry could not grow or thrive unless the majority of games adhered to the same basic set of rules. The NES controller is such an important artifact of gaming history because it was an instrumental part in the creation of the concepts which act as the foundation of the medium even to this day, which was no small feat for a simple piece of plastic measuring only 12.2 cm by 5.25 cm.

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Tae K. Kim

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