I was sitting with my son the other day, watching him go through the countless ads on Youtube for the next major “AAA” title in gaming history to enjoy a 10-minute Minecraft video that some guy shoved together for the views. It was chaotic, but that’s what catches their attention! He leaned over to me and asked “Dad, how did you know about games back when you were a kid?” and in those few simple words, the memories flooded back. What happened? I honestly can’t vouch for the late 80s, I myself was a child of the 90s, but I can still recall those moments as they happened just 10 minutes ago. There were commercials from Nintendo and Sega with them calling each other out. There were entire pages dedicated to the back end of the Sears catalog showing the beautiful (and sometimes deceptive) box art. There was even software for sale in my Scholastic Book Fair ordering form. The exposure for us children was out there, all you had to do, was pay attention.
But the one format that always stood out to me, was demo kiosks. As an adult, I would endeavor to say that a trip to Walmart or the Mall isn’t exactly on my list of “favorite things to do”, but as a kid, I would jump at the opportunity to head to those places, because my favorite consoles, were on display for all of us to see! I would immediately rush to the back (where the electronics section seemed to always be), and scrimmage my way through the crowds to see something I had never seen before, “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”, and it looked magnificent! I would implore the tall kid who was hogging the controller to give me a chance, just a sliver of time to play the demo before my mom caught up to me and gave me a stern lecture for running off. I guess you could say, it was easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission!
As time went on, the generations of gaming kept rolling forward like an unstoppable force. The PS1 paved the way to the PS2, the N64 transformed into the Gamecube, and for some weird reason Microsoft was trying to enter the game market, but what did I know, I was just a kid! Then, without warning, the malls started dying off and the focus on those coveted aisles of video gaming became seemingly silent. I guess in some weird way, the craze of consumerism was waning and online orders took the spotlight. With the ability to move demos to the console themselves in online markets, the demo kiosks died away. Granted, they haven’t TOTALLY disappeared, you might still see a glorious PS4 or PS5 locked in a case to prevent someone from stealing it, but most of the time, it’s a handful of games and in some cases, just videos. I fervently believe that the magic of the demo kiosks we experienced as children, has faded into obscurity.
I wish I had been born at a time when video games were a novel concept because the Sociology and Psychology of video gaming advertisements would have been interesting to observe through the years. From demo kiosks to the PlayStation magazine, to the Jampack Volumes that featured roughly 10 games a pop, we’ve been relegated to experiencing demos in the comfort of our homes. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, I just feel the magic isn’t able to be captured again like it was in the 90s. Maybe I’m just an old man now in my 30s. Maybe I’m just a purist who holds on to the memories, who deals with the effects of hindsight, but if I could go back in time and join that gang of kids who could dream of seeing their favorite game 9 feet in the air on a CRT screen that looks like someone tossed a brick at it, I would in a heartbeat.