The Dreamcast: 10 Years On, part two
By Damien Wilkens
09 September 2009 — Love does strange things to people.
Unless you drive a Porsche or would look at home on the cover of GQ, chances are high that at some point you'll have to make some compromises. The perfect woman that loves Kung Fu and fried foods likely isn't going to come our way. So we do what we can: we settle. We find ourselves with that homely girl that's intelligent and funny, or that smoking hot babe with a good heart but a brain made of Silly Putty. That's why love is so important. It's easy to love someone that's perfect, but to love someone for their flaws? That's a powerful thing.
When the console wars started, Sega was the dorky girl with braces that sat in front of the class. No one really paid attention to her, and at the time she didn't really give them much reason to. Eventually though, the braces came off, she filled out, got Blast Processing, and people started to take notice. Suddenly Sega was the edgy, popular girl getting invited to all the parties. But it was never enough for her. Sega always had an inferiority complex. She found herself so desperate to maintain attention that she often did stupid and foolish things, such as the 32X and the Sega CD — the equivalent of getting bad Botox and a tramp stamp. Still though, things weren't so bad that they couldn't be recovered. That was, at least, until the Saturn, which finally saw the old girl fall. Hard.
Still, I loved her, remembering the good times and hoping that more were on the way. Sure, I eventually moved on, saw other companies, but none had ever captured my affections like Sega did. Then one day, the Dreamcast arrived. Nintendo was the loyal old housewife, ready to iron your shirt for the morning; Sony was the new eye-catcher willing to do anything in bed for your attention. But when the Dreamcast came out, Sega wasn't just back, she was now the sultry redhead in the corner that you couldn't turn away from.
The Dreamcast wasn't just another video game console; it was the ugly duckling becoming that unattainable perfect woman. It was the first console of a new 128-bit generation. It was the first to have online play built-in. And most importantly, it had what was widely considered to be the strongest launch line-up in the history of gaming. It couldn't have failed. It shouldn't have failed. But it did, because all the make-up and new clothes would never hide the fact that our old girl Sega had major daddy issues.
I didn't first play the Dreamcast until long after it was dead, a corpse that most thought buried years earlier. I've frequently cited in the past that I quit playing video games during my adolescence, at the time thinking myself "too old" to play them anymore. However, I never quit reading the magazines. And though I wasn't playing anymore, I still followed the chronicle of Sega's post-Genesis life, through articles written by men and women that were twice my age yet seemingly not bothered by covering a supposedly child's medium. While on the outside I pretended to no longer care for such childish things, I was always captivated watching the evolution of the industry. The arrival of the PlayStation. The death of the Saturn. The unveiling of Super Mario 64. These stories were the Great Gatsby and the Moby Dick of my teenage years. But none of these could compare to the hype of 9.9.99.
I always wonder what might have happened if I were there to support the Dreamcast during its year and a half of life. I wish I could tell you I waited in line for six hours on that fateful September morning, and proceeded to play Jet Grind Radio until the wee hours of the night. I wish I could say that I wrote a tear-stained letter to Sega when they halted development of the system. I wish I could say that I was there when the Phantasy Star Online servers were shut down, and that I watched in horror as players were slowly deleted from the world. But I can't, because I wasn't there.
Yet the Dreamcast is still my favorite video game console. I champion it to everyone that will listen. I try to keep it alive in memory, and point out what it did for the industry. I write articles on websites about it. Whenever a friend asks me what system to buy — expecting me to go on a weighted response about the 360's exclusives versus the PS3's free online play — I simply reply, "Get a Dreamcast."
Maybe it's because I've always liked to cheer for the underdog. As someone proud to call himself a Sega kid, rooting for the scrub team is pretty much a part of my DNA. Or maybe because it was one of the last true game consoles.
Next month I turn 25 years old. While this simple fact frightens me for a multitude of reasons, I know that I have to come to terms with some things at this stage in my life: male modeling is not a viable career option, they're never bringing Surge back, and, hardest of all, I have to accept the fact that the video game industry has passed me by.
I'm not the target audience for a PS3, an Xbox 360, or even a Wii for that matter. I don't want to get mauled and trash-talked by a child. I don't want my system to be the central communication hub to a symbiotic entertainment center. And I have no desire to waggle my arms like a bloody spastic simply to have my on-screen avatar open a jar of virtual pickles.
The Dreamcast represents to me a dying idea: a game console that's unafraid to be known as such. I'm not here to rattle my cane and declare that the old days of video gaming were better. In fact, a lot of people would argue that, game quality wise, video games are the best they've ever been. And they may not have been better days, but they were my days. I grew up playing simply for the thrill of the high score, and the satisfaction of beating a difficult level after dying countless times. I have no doubt that 20 years from now there will be people pining for the simplicity of God of War, or the quiet subtlety of a Halo death match. That's what love and nostalgia do to us.
But to have such affection for the system simply because of what it represents is rather shortsighted. The fact is that the Dreamcast made such an impact in such a short period of time — with barely 200 games released before its death, mind you — that it's still compared to juggernauts like the PS2. This is because the Dreamcast represented the height of Sega's creative development. They put out fresh, innovative games that never should have seen the light of day outside of Japan. A samba game with maracas? What kind of dork would buy that? Dorks like me; the same ones that bought equally groundbreaking games like Rez and Seaman; people like myself that wondered why other companies never dared to do the same. Unfortunately the answer was all too clear: the other companies didn't do what Sega did because Sega was a failure.
The controller was horrible, there were barely any RPGs, and there were no EA games. These are all valid points that come up whenever someone wishes to argue why the Dreamcast isn't as good as we all remember it. Then why do I love it?
There is no easy answer. It's like trying to explain why you love your girlfriend to someone that finds her dull and unattractive. "I don't give a damn what you think! She's mine, and that's all that matters," will be where the argument inevitably leads. That's what love does to people, and really, there's nothing wrong with that.