With the massive E3 expo finished, the gaming world is abuzz with the various announcements of AAA gaming titles, console software re-designs and independent development advances, I thought it might be a good time about something that has influenced me from the moment it arrived in my life, and turned my whole world upside down.
Cast your minds back with me, friends. To a time when high speed broadband internet was not widely available, in fact, the only time I could check my Facebook page was when I went to an internet cafe (remember those?) or got access via my college PC. Back in 2001 a revolutionary device entered my life and the lives of many others and transformed it forever. I have always been something of a casual gamer. This is because I am the type of person who can easily spend 3-4 days straight, playing games. Remind me to tell you all about Christmas 2008, The Godfather video game, and a mad dash to Tesco for essential junk food supplies!
Anyway, back in 2001, Sony Computer Entertainment unleashed the PlayStation 2 on to the world. This was the follow up console to the previous PlayStation console (PSone) and it truly opened the world’s eyes to the possibilities with home entertainment. The TV adverts for the console accentuated it’s sleek, modern design. Its smooth, black casing pitched it as something between The Monolith and a modern art exhibit from the Tate gallery. The way the DVD drive slid open from it’s main body was so seductive, it should have come with one of those parental advisory warning stickers you get on Hip-Hop albums!
Around April of that same year, I was a hard up university student. My first 4 months at Uni were an absolute struggle for me, having decided that moving away from home would be more ‘fun’, I quickly found out that when your local council screws up and loses your student loan application form, the student lifestyle can leave a very bad taste in your mouth very quickly. Working two part-time jobs whilst studying was incredibly draining to say the least. Whilst my house-mates were out getting drunk every night, I was folding t-shirts and sweaters, cursing my life choices. Later that month, my back dated student loan payments finally arrived and my girlfriend at the time asked me how I wanted to use the money. At this point, any responsible person would have answered that they wanted to put it into an ISA or even paid off some of their crippling rent arrears, but not I. No, there was only one thing on my mind at that I desired above all else; the PlayStation 2. Fortunately my girlfriend was as much into gaming as I was, so rather than chastise my idiocy, she practically had her car keys in her hand whilst dragging me out the door and off to the nearest retailer. I honestly can’t remember exactly how much I paid for it that day, but I can vividly remember the dry feeling at the back of my throat and the clamminess of my palms as I stood in the queue to pay for my new toy. Was that nervousness I felt? fear? no dear friends, it was anticipation that gripped me in it’s vice. As the cashier put through the purchase, I remember glancing over to my girlfriend and seeing her eyes absolutely transfixed on the cashier and the packaged PlayStation 2 console, ensuring all due care was taken in the handling of our new bundle of joy. We got a game with the console as part of the package called ‘The Bouncer’ from Square and Dream Factory. To be honest, I felt the game was pretty poor, It was a standard ‘beat-em up’ whose plot was so wafer thin, it felt like the entire game would crash under the stupidity of it all. But having said that, me and my girlfriend ended up playing the game from 6pm to about 3 am the next day, as ‘PS2 fever’ had us by the balls as was not letting go. I appreciate that this can hardly be described as a marathon performance in gaming circles, but considering we were both somewhat casual gamers with jobs and studying to neglect, that was quite the feat. We felt a sense of pride and freedom in our mini ‘slacker’ rebellion.
Now, the title of this article suggests the PS2 changed my life, and it did. How, you ask? well, it’s quite simple really. The PS2 changed my life because it revolutionised everything that I did. It wasn’t just a games console to me, it was an entertainer and ice breaker, friend and dare I say, a lover? Let me explain..
I say it was an entertainer, because it thrilled me no end to play International Super Star Soccer 2 (Konami) and guide the lowly Jamaica (had the island of my parents birth, Grenada, been available to chose, I would have) to the dizzy heights of international trophy glory (they couldn’t use the phrase ‘World Cup’ for copyright reasons). I was rather pleased with achieving that which would likely never happen in reality. It’s difficult to describe the sadistic pleasure I took as I hacked and slashed my way through the God of War, hunting down Hades with the will of a man possessed. The DVD drive proved to be a the gift from the Gods I suspected it would be, allowing me to expand my movie watching experience, I began borrowing anime films from my local Blockbuster (remember those?) and swapping DVDs with my friends. It was the hub that created excitement whenever said friends came over to my place. It broke the ice when you went to someone else’s home for the 1st time and saw that beautiful black box batting it’s eyelids at you. It became my friend because like every good friend, it lifted my spirits every time I hit that power button. It didn’t judge me through my hardships and loneliness. When I broke up with my girlfriend, bashing my way through King of the Fighters helped to exhume my frustrations. It became a lover because..well..it was the first time I was able to watch a porno film without having to use the family computer and glancing nervously over my shoulder in case a family member came into the living room unannounced!
Talking to some of my buddies recently, I asked them to tell me the names of some of their favourite PS2 games. The diverse list of titles that they gave speaks volumes for the sheer level of content that was available at the time. Everything from Bust-A-Move and Burnout Takedown to Metal Gear Solid 2 : Sons of Liberty and Devil May Cry 3 were mentioned. Sony’s ability to get major developers to commit to providing games for the console was a master stroke, ensuring that the PlayStation 2 stood tall, in spite of strong competition from Nintendo’s GameCube and Microsoft’s X-Box ( which technically, had better specs). For me, it’s hard to pick a favourite game for the PS2. Yakuza immersed me in the Japanese underworld like only the best films from ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano had down in the past. Pro Evolution Soccer pushed the boundaries even further for what was capable with a video game, and playing Metal Gear Solid 2 was like staring in my own personal Hollywood blockbuster action movie. Personally, the game that changed everything for me was Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I could easily write another 1000 plus words on that game alone, so I will save that for another post, but the fact that it was so brilliant, even my God-fearing, anti swearing, anti-violence mother was a rapt spectator every time I played the game says a lot.
It was no surprise to me to learn that the PS2 is the best selling games console history. It came along at a time when the worlds of information technology and entertainment were merging like never before. It became a pop culture icon that artists referenced and celebrities had to be seen with. It will go down in history along with the iPod, PC and Smartphone as a device that influenced millions of lives around the world and perhaps even changed them for the better in some cases.
So, here’s to you PlayStation 2, thank you for the memories, joys, and experiences you brought me over the years. Long may you live in the memory, and most importantly, continue to bring escapist entertainment to the gamers, film addicts, social butterflies and porno fans of the world.