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Hardships From PlayStation History – Part 2

As you might remember from Part 1 of Hardships From PlayStation History, we left you with a bit of a cliffhanger. Our intrepid twentieth century gamer had ventured behind his massive television, daring to walk among a huge tangle of wires, all because he wanted to watch a bit of TV and needed to switch the RF plugs around. You’ve probably been wondering whether he made it out alive. Well, the good news is that he did. There was a minor incident after Eastenders when he went to swap the cables back again – on his way out from behind the TV his foot caught on a controller cable, sharply pulling the cable out of its port and whipping it across the back of his ankle – but he was soon ready to try his PlayStation out at last.

At this point we’ve decided that our twentieth century gamer could do with a name, mainly because we can’t think of any more variations on ‘our twentieth century gamer’ and all the ones we did think of were terrible mouthfuls. Let’s call him Edwyn Collins after the Scottish pop star Edwyn Collins. Just to be clear though, this story is not about the Scottish pop star Edwyn Collins, and any similarities between our fictional (but historically authentic) Edwyn Collins and the real-life Scottish pop star Edwyn Collins are purely coincidental.

So anyway, you might not believe it but in order for Edwyn to turn his PlayStation on, he actually had to push a large switch on the top of it. Yes, there were actual buttons and switches on the console itself. In order for these buttons to be operated, actual physical force had to be applied onto them – holding your finger on them for two seconds would have no effect whatsoever. As a result of all this button pushing, gamers of Edwyn’s time had muscular, well developed fingers, wrists and arms.

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The power switch on an early model PlayStation.

When the PlayStation boots up, Edwyn is delighted to see and hear the PlayStation emblem appear on his TV screen. But when he sees the screen offering him a choice between accessing a disc and accessing a memory card his heart sinks, for he has neither. “Why doesn’t he just download some games for the time being?” you’re probably thinking. Because in 1995 only NASA and the military had the internet and it was only good for sending very small lists of words to other computers. To Edwin, the idea of downloading an entire game via his telephone would have sounded like witchcraft.

No, Edwyn couldn’t even so much as order a game from an online store. To get himself some games and a memory card, he’d have to visit an actual shop in an actual street, like some poor people in poor countries still do even today. Buying games in 1995 wasn’t just hard because of the time and effort and exposure to the elements that was usually required, it was also just downright bloody hard to know which games to get. Without the internet, game demos couldn’t be conveniently downloaded for free. In 1995 the only way to get PlayStation demos was to buy a magazine with a ‘free’ demo disc on the front. There was only one magazine that came with such a disc and it cost almost as much as a game. The magazine was owned by an evil, greedy duke or baron or sheriff (or something) who ruled the people with a cruel, iron fist, refusing to lower the price of the magazine or even to allow demos to appear anywhere else at all. Years later, on the day the proper internet got switched on, his castle was stormed by angry peasants and he was beaten to death with rolled up back issues of his own evil publication.

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To buy games in the twentieth century, a gamer had to visit a large, dirty, noisy trading place called an ‘electronics boutique’.

So, after much trial and tribulation Edwyn has got hold of some games and a memory card. At this point you might be wondering what the hell a memory card is. Well, by today’s standards it’s a ridiculously inefficient, expensive and cumbersome way to store game saves. Unbelievably each of these cards cost £30 but had a capacity of just 1 megabyte (‘mega’ by the way is an archaic term which, ironically in this case, means ‘very good’). At that rate a 40GB PS3 hard drive would cost an astonishing £1.2 million, and that was in old pounds which, as we explained last time, were worth loads more than today’s pounds. Your PlayStation 3 doesn’t seem so expensive now, does it? And £30 per MB is even more extortionate when you consider that each card was divided into fifteen ‘blocks’ and there were no half blocks. So no matter how tiny a game save might have been it would always take up at least one block – that’s two quid’s worth!

Right, we realise that Edwyn still hasn’t played any games, but we’ve had enough of this for the time being, so you’ll have to wait ‘til the next part of this fascinating series to uncover such mysteries as ‘Why were PlayStation discs black?’, ‘What the hell was a disc tray?’ and ‘Why did people turn their PlayStations upside down?’ ‘Til next time, goodbye.




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