PlayStation Memories And How Sony’s Brand Changed Me

1995 was the year before I started studying for GCSEs. For most of it, I was fourteen years old and like most fourteen-year-olds, I probably felt a little bit out of place. The fact that I was the only ostensibly English kid in a Northern Irish school singled me out as different. I’d moved here with my family (half of which is Northern Irish) three years earlier but my accent never relented much to the nasal cadences around it. I had teachers that regularly mocked my (correct, by the way!) pronunciation of certain words – bigotry was boundless.

Northern Ireland is famous for having two big communities that don’t like each other. One of the few things that both those communities agree upon, most of the time, is that they don’t like the English very much either. Colonial hangover, maybe. Jealousy of the larger, more successful near-neighbour perhaps. Whatever it was, I think it made growing up here that little bit more difficult. In a country so keen to hate, and so effortlessly adept at hatred, I was easy pickings, even if most of it was intended to be lighthearted. But if it wasn’t “talking funny” then it would have been something else, I’m sure.

At the time, there was only one person in my school that wasn’t white. You would hardly ever see a black face on the street in Belfast. Difference wasn’t celebrated or even much tolerated because it was so rarely encountered. In 1995, the two most popular local TV personalities were a semi-closeted homosexual who did camp introductions between programmes and an over-the-top drag act.

Even so, I never knew (or personally knew of) a gay person until I was an adult and homophobic epithets were the insult-de-jour at my school. Even when I was fourteen, this place felt like a throwback to the 1970s, a place that time forgot and I often felt like a lost traveller, desperately trying to figure out a way to understand the natives before they grew restless and ate me.

So the little common interests – the things that I could use to connect with others – meant a lot to me.

Videogames had been a part of my life for a long time. There was a ZX Spectrum in my house ever since I was very young. I think I partly learned some numeracy, literacy and what would later become known as I.T. skills from having a “computer” hooked up to a black and white TV in the corner of the dining room.

I was promised that I could ask for one big gift if I passed the interviews and tests to get into the grammar school. When I did, I defied my mother’s obvious keenness that I ask for a mountain bike and I requested an imported Mega Drive instead, so that I could play anything on it (“Normal or Jap?” asked the sales guy, like it was perfectly acceptable).

I loved my Mega Drive. But even that was a niche pastime. Some games, like Sensible Soccer, Road Rash, Streets of Rage or Desert Strike, were deemed cool and people at school would talk about them enthusiastically. When I veered the conversation towards something even slightly less stereotypical – like Ecco the Dolphin, for example – it became weird again. These were the days when “geeky” was still very much an insult, and one I often endured. I found a new little circle of people with similar interests and we swapped, traded and shared games, but it was all done in a kind of illicit way. It was underground.

And then something changed: the PlayStation was released.

I didn’t get a PlayStation immediately. I remember being much more interested in the successor to my beloved Mega Drive – the Sega Saturn. It had released a few months earlier and it had Virtua Fighter, Panzer Dragoon and Daytona, but when you’re young and your family isn’t particularly well off, you have to wait for something as big as a games console.

While I waited for the Saturn, the PlayStation came out. It had WipEout and Ridge Racer. Pretty soon it would have Tekken too. My local video rental store had one that you could rent for, I think, £10 a night and every few weeks me and a friend would club together and get it for a night. Eventually, I got a horrible part time job, saved my tips and bought myself a PlayStation.

The next few years saw a curious transformation for videogames. They became mainstream cool. PlayStation started cropping up in music videos and being mentioned in interviews with bands in NME, Melody Maker or even Kerrang. I had inadvertently got in on the ground floor of something that suddenly everyone was starting to recognise. I would find a huge projector screen in a nightclub that let you play WipEout and I’d be the best in the room. People bought me drinks.

The PlayStation changed things. It undoubtedly changed the way games were made and produced. It arguably changed the kind of games that were made, too. It changed the industry. It could be blamed for starting the decline that eventually resulted in Sega’s exit from the console business and could you imagine Microsoft entering the console business without the PlayStation’s existence?

More personally, PlayStation changed my life. That seems hyperbolic, I know, and I don’t mean that it returned my sight or awoke latent superpowers or anything so dramatic. But I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for PlayStation. So many of the things I’m active in, work or hobbies, have roots in PlayStation somewhere. So much so that it’s impossible to imagine my life, had this brand never existed.

The first PlayStation console, that little grey rectangle, with its pop-up lid, was the start of a revolution. But PlayStation wasn’t one moment, it was a stream of constantly evolving, building ideas and instances that gradually became the identity of that brand and its loyal fan base today.

The video they released earlier today might simply be a smart marketing device, created to arouse these feelings of nostalgia but there’s infinitely more to it that that. PlayStation really has contributed to our collective and individual identities as, for desperate want of a better term, gamers.

For many of us, we are PlayStation, and PlayStation is us.

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38 Comments

  1. PlayStation was the first console my parents ever let me have. We had a BBC, spectrum, couple of amigas and a cd32 but this was the first one that wasn’t for the family and bought games for.

    It was also my transition from championship manager and mainly point and clicks to a far wider array of games. I got mine the year before we started gcse lessons and it had an impact quickly. Got me interested in computer graphics and I remember doing a talk on English on the history of final fantasy.

    It was probably the first time I was exposed to a console war with our school have a PlayStation crowd and an N64 one.

  2. My first playstation was in 1998 and was an engagement present from my fiancee.
    Next year will be our 15th anniversary and I’m hoping she gets me a PS4.

    • I’d been married a year and was away on a work course when I realised I didn’t have any pants. So I bought some, and when I got home my wife said “you’ve got new pants, are you having an affair?”

      I’ve now been married 5 years, and exactly the same thing happened, only this time when I got home, my wife said “you’ve got new pants, did you shit yourself?”

      Good luck with the PS4.

  3. My best Playstation memory would have to be my Dad (who died when I was 15 on the same year as this story) coming home with Actua Soccer and a second controller and saying “Come on then, show me how this works”. We played loads of footie together on it and I had to play intentionally badly to keep him from being thrashed most of the time. Great memories

  4. I only started with the PS2 but I’ve probably spent way too long playing playstation consoles and waiting for my PS4 for the next thousands of hours :)

  5. One of my great memories of PS was when i walked into Game with my mate and saw a trailer of Tomb Raider on the TV screens just above the entrance. I have never been that awe struck with a videogame and console than that day in game. Tomb Raider was my very first game on PS1, well Tomb Raider and Desert Strike.

    Also does any remember how easy it was to play copied games on the PS1? I had one or two copied games and the trick was placing a normal game in the tray and waiting untill you heard the disc slow down, which you then had whip out the disc and place the copied one in, the PS1 would be tricked into thinking it was a normal game! Awesome!

    • Yep, but needed a little weight to put on the sensor to trick it that the lid was down too! One of my best mates had just moved over from Hong Kong where you can get bootleg anything and he had pretty much every game.

  6. I could have sworn I had an N64 before PS1? Maybe I did? Just looked at a console timeline and it’s possible. I dunno, I was 14 in 1995 too, but spent nearly all my spare time skateboarding.

  7. Cant exactly remember when i got the playstation, around 98 i think i was only 7. They came with a demo im sure and all the games on it were on the back of the box. It came with Tekken. I remember the first time i played Final Fantasy VII, i was blown away, it is still my favourite game of all time, every today. They Playstation was an amazing console, it got me lots of friends as thats a thing i had in common with them, nearly all my friends now are gamers. God bless Sony (and Squaresoft) i cant wait for the PS4 now.

  8. Nice article Peter and I shared your experience in Northern Ireland in reverse. I was born in Belfast and came to live in England when I was 9 so I know a thing or to about trying to fit in, however being a bit older than you Peter my first memories of gaming, go back a long way, to the the very beginnings of Video gaming when I started playing on something a bit more basic with an original Atari Pong, but when 1995 came I remember reading in one of the first editions of Edge that the designers at Sony actually considered the PS1 may have been actually too powerful for gaming console. I shit you not!

  9. It was almost by chance I got one. My friend got 10% off at woolworths and my friend mentioned that Sony had a new console out. I think 15 of my friends bought a console due to seeing my psone. So many good memories from Playstation, roll on the ps4.

  10. Just, nice.

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