Yay!

My blog post on ‘Indian History of Video Gaming’ has had the honour of being featured on www.desipundit.com. Yay!

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And it begins…

“I’m afraid there aren’t any Chefs available at such short notice.” said the restaurant manager to the eager gentleman.
“Not even one?” he asked dejectedly.
“I’m sorry, Sir.”
“But I’m desperate. I really need a chef for my book!”
“For your book?”
“Yeah, I’m writing a book- a novel if you please, which takes an in-depth look into a chef’s life gone awry. It’s gonna make me millions! Since I don’t know anything about chefs, I thought it would be nice to do a bit of research on them. You know how any writer worth his salt is supposed to research his characters to make his writing more believable? It’s called ‘getting under the skin of the character’ …..”
“Get out!” screamed the manager.
“Excuse me?”
“You want to hire a ‘Grandioso’ chef- one who is sought after by the elitist of the elite for some lousy book! It’s preposterous!”
“What? It’s not like I won’t pay him. In fact, he can have 1% of the royalties from the book sales…and an honourable mention in the book…though I can’t guarantee that I’ll use his real name – makes it seem more mysterious, you know?”
“Security!”
“I’m going! I’m going!”

As he walked away, Viz was still as determined as ever to get his writing career off the ground. He believed that he had found the easiest gimmick to get rich quickly – a writer was always only one best-seller away from becoming a billionaire, after all. And even though he didn’t know much about writing, he believed that ‘researching the character’ was absolutely essential. And since he was writing an epic science-fiction/fantasy/mystery with a chef as its protagonist, he needed a chef! 

Viz looked around as he prodded on towards the bus stop. The street was full of fancy restaurants with glass windows. His eyes lit up as he saw a sign on one such window.
“Kitchen Help Wanted” it said.
“That amounts to a front row seat to a Chef’s performance” he thought. What better place to observe a chef than his kitchen itself. So, off he went to check if the vacancy still stood.


“I hope you have the requisite experience for the position?” the manager asked him after the preliminaries were complete.
“I can boil eggs.” Viz ventured.
“You’ve studied cooking at college, of course?”
“I boiled eggs when I was at college.” replied Viz earnestly. “I’m sorry but you’re unsuitable….” the manager was interrupted midway by a voice from behind the kitchen door.”Send him in.” the voice said.
“Chi, this is Viz. He’s the latest applicant” He said to the lone person in the kitchen.
“Hmm…” he said looking him over with uncertainty.
“But, he doesn’t have the skills or the expe….” the manager began, but was stopped by Chi yet again.

“Don’t bother. Tell me Viz, can you boil eggs?”
“Done it all my life.”
“You’re hired.” Chi said quickly.

“I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.” said the dazed manager as he left.
Viz scrutinized the kitchen. It was rectangular in shape and had cabinets, for appliances and dishes, at one end and wash-basins at the other. There was a large rectangular marble slab, built around a pillar, in the centre of the room where the major cooking related activities seemed to take place. A bunch of wires were plugged into a switchboard near the wash-basins. The other end of the wires vanished under a door to the side.


“Where is the rest of the staff?” Viz enquired, looking around at the empty kitchen.
“What staff?” Chi said distantly. He seemed to be busy scribbling in a small notebook he had just taken out.
“The cooking staff! You couldn’t possibly run a restaurant kitchen with just two people, can you?”
“Oh, we manage to get by.” His scribbling intensified.
“How?” asked a bewildered Viz.
“I suppose I’d better tell you all.”

End of Chapter I

The Indian History of Video Gaming

As I sift through the millions of ‘video game history’ articles (the ones which track the evolution of consoles through the ages) on the internet, I can’t help but notice that there isn’t any mention of India anywhere-none whatsoever! It is as if India was never on the gaming map. As a child who grew up in the midst of India’s very own video game revolution, I feel obligated to share with you the journey of the ‘Indian console gamer’ (as seen through my glasses) so far.

The current Indian console gamer is faced with a perpetual dearth of gaming titles (most of the games that people possess have been acquired from cousins in far-off lands or from the friendly neighbourhood grey market). The XBOX 360 is the first well-publicized launch of a new (relatively) console in India as far as I know. I lay emphasis on ‘well-publicized’ because the PS2 was in fact released in India but many people missed it because of the lack of marketing, and on ‘new’ as the Sega Genesis was also launched in Mumbai sometime in 1997-98 (by then it was well past its sell-by date in the West)! Yet, to a lot of the children who grew up the late eighties and early nineties- t’was a magical time-a time when there was no World Wide Web and we were happily unaware of the dinosaur like status of our consoles. 

Most of us were introduced to video games by those quaint, humongous coin operated arcade machines  in Ice-Cream parlours where armed with a joystick and two buttons (and sometimes the wheel) our generation took on ‘Street Fighter’ ,‘Pacman’, ‘Road fighter’ and of course ‘Mario’. Days were spent pounding the buttons senseless while hoping that ‘Ryu’ would perform that super move. I believe the earliest console based video game to be commonly found in India was the Atari 2600, or what we referred to simply as the ‘Atari video game system’ here (this did not cause any confusion as the other versions of the Atari consoles such as the Atari 5200 and 7800, were never really seen in the country). I remember how we spent hours ‘fishing’ and playing ‘basketball’ on that ancient system. It had a simple controller consisting of a single joystick and button. The graphics were poor but it was the gameplay that mattered and to us ‘blissfully ignorant’ kids it was-well it was bliss! 

Then came what was and will always remain, the most successful console in India, ever. Elsewhere, it was called the Nintendo Entertainment System or the NES. In India we knew it as the ‘Little Master’, the ‘Samurai’ and a load of other names. The ‘Little Master’ and its variants, I recall, were made by a company called ‘Media’. I have no idea what has become of this company, but it played a massive role in heralding 8-bit gaming in India. These machines could successfully play the 8-bit NES games and there were hundreds of games available for it locally. Now, in the other parts of the world, the games for the NES system were sold in single game cartridges, and each game could cost up to $50 when it was released. On the other hand, we got cartridges which had multiple games in them (the number of games depended upon the size of the games and thus cartridges with fewer games generally had the better quality games). It was beyond outrageous for us to be expected to pay 50$ plus for a single game of ‘Super Mario’. We used to grudgingly shell our 600 rupees for 4-games-in-1 and 11-games-in-1 cartridges and freaked out for the next few days as we ran our machines ragged. Some of the most popular Nintendo tiles in India were ‘Double Dragon’, ‘Excite Bike’, ‘Tetris’, ‘Spartan X’, ‘Battle City’ and the ‘Contra’ and ‘Mario’ series. There even existed various ‘video game places’ that let you play their collection of game titles at up to 100 Rupees an hour! The cult like status of the 8-bit system can be gauged by the fact that to this day, you can still find 8-bit consoles and game cartridges in some cities. 

Contra

The first game in the Contra Series.  It enjoyed cult status among Indian  gamers. ‘Contra’ and ‘Mario’ are arguably the most easily recognizable games in India. 

As I saw it, the Atari 2600 and the 8-bit NES clones were the only consoles that garnered immense popularity in India before they were replaced by the PC. The 16 bit systems really never had the time to grab the attention of the public and the Internet threw us open to video game Emulation and acquainted us with the totally different world of console gaming that was out there. Eventually, the surge in video game emulation on the PC ensured that games for consoles like the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo, and later the N64 and the Neo Geo were available to the entire world. All you required was a good PC, a powerful graphics card and an internet connection. A few of the Indian gamers progressed to the Playstations and the X-Boxes, albeit these systems and their games were never easily available in India. 

I hope the release of the XBOX 360 will ensure that India no longer lags behind in the console gaming department. But, I personally am thankful for the way some of these consoles made it here so late. It gave us, who were born so late, the rare opportunity of experiencing video game systems from so many different generations in such a little span of time.