- Author Ross Jackson
- Published July 24, 2014
The Story of Athletics Computer Gaming
With the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in Glasgow last night – and a feast of athletics to come – here’s a brief history of how you can throw javelins, jump over hurdles and do the Fosbury Flop… all from the comfort of your front room.
Athletics is notoriously difficult to translate into computer games. There have been howlers. Maybe, as a result, when they succeed they have a tendency to become massively popular and have even made it onto mainstream TV (First Class anybody?!) As it happens, there are Three Great Ages in athletics gaming – and they’re all completely different…
The First Age Button smashing
This is where it all began. How can you make someone run faster, or jump higher using a pad or joystick? Easy. You either press a couple of buttons as quickly as possible or waggle a joystick until your parents knock on the door to check you’re OK. This was the age of blistered thumbs, destroyed controllers and battered joysticks. Hardware manufacturers rejoiced and doctors were flummoxed by an endless stream of RSI complaints.
This was the age of giants and one game stands a hop, skip and jump above the others: Track and Field. This and its sequels were the original button smashers and still hold appeal, 31 years after the original’s release, with the world record score broken most recently in 2008. You can relive the magic here.
The Second Age The power bar
Button smashing never actually went away but the power bar took over for a number of events. Keep the increasingly erratic power level just right so you don’t come up short or launch a javelin into the crowd. The power bar was a nemesis: such a simple idea but so fiendish at higher levels of gameplay that murderous thoughts crossed many gamers’ minds.
The power bar had a partner in crime – the energy bar. When you thought your button mashing was up to scratch, the energy bar came along and told you you were trying too hard. Yes too hard. And you had knackered out your pixelated character. This generally happened within yards of a finishing line or just before a heroic victory. Horribly frustrating.
The Third Age Actually getting up and doing something
Apart from novelty dancing games on some games consuls, you never needed to move much to play a computer game. Then Nintendo came along with the Wii. This was a game changer and is the reason all the latest consoles use motion sensing as part of the experience. Everyone remembers the first time they used a Wii, mainly because it actually worked…
Most people started with bowling but swiftly moved onto Tennis, Golf and when Nintendo brought the Balance Board and Sports Resort, all sorts of other sports appeared including things as diverse as frisbee and Yoga. And there was the pure Olympics-ripping Summer Stars 2012…
You could also genuinely get a sweat on with the Wii, anyone who has had a go at the Boxing or, ahem, the Hula Hoop game will testify to enjoying the two-day ache. Gaming could get you fit, but alas it could also be dangerous – YouTube is full of people smashing various ornaments and unlucky toddlers who have entered the backswing zone.
The Wii also brought the social aspect of athletics to gaming as well – two player Fifa was suddenly dull compared to beating your mates up on screen. Pubs even held Wii nights in the early days…
Ross Jackson is one of our new Rising Stars writers. You can read the rest of his stuff here >>>
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