Video Gamer is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices subject to change. Learn more
The PS4 turned ten yesterday, and I’m ashamed I missed its big day. When it launched, Sony had been making consoles for nearly 20 years, and it had even cut its teeth on two handhelds. The company had been releasing new consoles pretty consistently for a long time, though there was growing competition from Microsoft’s Xbox brand and the traction that PC gaming was pulling.
When the PS4 was announced, I wasn’t even that compelled to pick one up. I wasn’t the kind of gamer who was interested in lifelike graphics, nor bleeding-edge hardware. My PS3 was going to do just fine. I only ended up begging my parents to get one for my birthday after finding out that kids from school were going to be playing online together.
As a little one, my fantasies were grinding for a team of Level 100 Fire types in Pokémon, exploring paintings in Super Mario 64, and building my own game console out of Lego and broken electronics. Youth was a much simpler time where the social poison of growing up didn’t really bother or affect me. Then, secondary school began. For those not in the UK, it’s somewhere between Middle and High School. It’s a place where the implications of being cool begin to sink in.
You muck around in the playground to make yourself a fool, dip your toes into sports and head down to the chicken shop with your mates after school in the hopes that people begin to like you for it all. Part of this meant utterly burying the nerd within – an act I’m still trying to excavate to this day.
After about a year of trying to fit in, the PS4 came out. It spoke to the mainstream elements of gaming and the ‘cool’ culture I’d so desperately wanted to be a part of. But more importantly, it spoke to the soul of the kid that saw Final Fantasy’s iconic blue menus when closing their eyes, and heard the roar of the Dovahkiin when the world went silent. How did it manage to do this? Online gaming.
To be clear, the PS4 wasn’t the first console to have online gaming at all. It had been around for over ten years prior to its release. In fact, I’ve never owned an Xbox, but from what I understand its hay-day was during the peak of Xbox Live which started with the original Xbox and exploded during the Xbox 360 generation. But, the PS4 did manage to arrive at such a time in my life that online gaming would be its biggest attraction.
While I might not have been able to chew the fat on Pokemon ROM hacks and obscure JRPGs, there was definitely a space for me in school to enjoy the social side of gaming. FIFA 14’s Pro Clubs, Black Ops 2’s Zombies and Destiny’s raids were all glued together by the PS4’s voice chat parties – a much needed feature following on from the PS3. I can, unfortunately, still feel the swelling of my ear canal from the plastic earpiece I had to use as a microphone. It couldn’t have cost more than £10, and it definitely did nothing good for my hearing.
Maybe I was too young to latch onto this as it came out, but the PS4 arrived just after the socialisation of gaming. A blend of advancements in social media, voice messaging, computer hardware and social practices meant that gaming needed to adapt to be relevant. The PS4 was just one step along the way. Single-player games were seeing less of a demand, and online live-service games such as Warzone and Fortnite were just about to be born.
I’m not ashamed by how deeply technology has impacted my life. I am Gen Z after all. But it’s only in writing this now that I’m coming to terms with the fact that my entire social outlook on life has been formed by internet chat rooms and online gaming. For a period of time – it was all that mattered to me. School would finish, and an evening in front of the PS4 would begin. Friends and strangers alike would be hurling rage-induced profanities across the internet at you, then you’d take it on the chin because swearing made you feel powerful.
The PS4 also encouraged a social mobility that I’d otherwise thought impossible. Maybe you didn’t need to act the fool, play sports, and hang out in real life to make friends; instead you just had to invite people to play Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm. And yes, I’m aware that this whole piece makes me sound like a social sycophant.
A portal to untapped fantasy
At some point though, it lost its novelty. People didn’t want to come round and play games anymore; they wanted to go out, party, and live life like adults. This change in maturity was a bit of a shock to me. Less so because I was anxious about social interaction, but more because I was terrified of losing gaming as a part of my life. It’s only now that I realise that I wasn’t holding onto gaming as a social crutch to make friends, but I was maybe clinging to it as a means of living vicariously through fantasy and escapism.
If there was ever a game that let me live like this, it was Bloodborne. The world of Yharnam is a brutal blend of gothic design, eldritch horror and rewarding gameplay, all showing off the PS4’s capabilities with oozing style. It’s relentlessly replayable with just the right amount of difficulty, but above all of that it’s just a carefully crafted fantasy. If I had to play one game on one console forever – hook me up with a Bloodborne loaded PS4.
By 2018, the PS4’s hardware was getting a little tired. Marvel’s Spider-Man’s developer, Insomniac Games, threw everything it had at the console and produced a game that still holds up today even five years on. Exclusive titles like Marvel’s Spider-Man, Bloodborne, and God of War are just a few of the many reasons why the PS4 is one of the most important consoles ever. The worlds created within the PS4’s PCB scaffolding and slanted exterior were comforting, welcoming and inviting – especially to a kid who hadn’t figured out how to belong. You can see now why I’m so gutted I missed its birthday yesterday.