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.