Video games are referred to by many detractors as being a huge waste of time. Obviously, I disagree; but I counter with the fact that in reality, video games are more like a huge waste of plastic. Seriously, think about the amount of plastic and silicon that has been dumped in landfills over the years due to video games alone. So, here’s a little proof on why we’re a truly wasteful industry at times.
The Atari Video Game Burial
A lot has been said of the North American video games industry crash, and Atari’s own role in that event, and while you can argue over whether it really happened, or who caused it until the proverbial cows come home, you can’t deny that the most interesting story from the crash is related to the alleged mass landfill of E.T. Atari 2600 cartridges.
For those who aren’t aware of this well-trodden ground, the tale goes that during a turbulent time for Atari, after losing $536million in 1983, the company ordered for 10-20 truckloads of Atari games, consoles and peripherals were reportedly dumped in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Then, the whole lot was buried under a layer of concrete. At this time it was also reported that there were around 3.5 million copies of E.T. that were left unsold, leading to people putting the two stories together and assuming that all of them were dumped in the aforementioned landfill, ensuring that the incident would be tied to E.T. for decades.
It wasn’t until the last decade when in 2013, the Alamogordo City Commission granted a production crew access to the landfill site to perform their own excavation as part of the documentary Atari: Game Over. This exercise began in April 2014 as a public event, where it Atari’s disposal efforts were finally uncovered for the world to see. Despite original claims of millions of cartridges being buried here, the truth was that a not insignificant number of 728,000 cartridges were buried, while the excavation only unearthed around 1,300 – The remaining number being too deep to retrieve.
Following this event, the site was once again filled with concrete, forever sealing these previously unwanted games to gaming’s history. With over 700,000 items still buried, you’ll struggle to find a more wasteful and un-environmentally sound instance in gaming.
Wii Remote Shells
Wasn’t the Wii great, eh? It brought motion-controlled gaming to the masses, encouraged old people to get off their asses, and caused a lot of accidents ending in smashes. Everyone absolutely loved Nintendo’s system. Especially video game accessory manufacturers.
The Wii remote controller itself was a Frankenstein’s monster of a creation, requiring all sorts of attachments that connected to the expansion port on the controller, and the result was a smorgasbord of devices that ranged from the necessary to the absolutely ridiculous.
In hindsight, I guess the biggest annoyance with the Wii Remote was that to be able to play on a normal controller, you had to dangle a Wii Remote off of it. Considering the Wii used Bluetooth for its wireless controllers, why on Earth was this stupid design considered necessary when they could have just made the Classic and Pro Controller pads wireless by themselves?
But, irritating failures of design are not why the Wii Remote on this list, because the biggest waste of plastic related to the Wii, has to be the utterly pointless array of jackets/shells that fit over the Wii Remote to turn it into a tennis racket, golf club, etc. They are the most useless pieces of plastic to ever find their way onto store shelves, and they sold by the shed load, usually in packs of multiple useless plastic items, further increasing the environmental impact of this hilariously bad idea.
Seriously, they didn’t make playing Wii Sports any more fun or improve your ability to play the game. They just increased the likelihood of your Wii Remote breaking household items after accidentally flinging it across the room.
It’s not even about the stupidly pointless Wii Remote shells, either – Cast your minds back to the release of Babysitting Mama, an extension of the Nintendo DS’s Cooking Mama series. This odd release came with a baby doll in which you insert your Wiimote into (get your brains out of the gutter) and you followed in-game instructions to nurse your wee Wii baby
There was a lot of crap plastic released for the Wii, that’s for sure. However, I will not have anything bad said about the many light gun shells that were made available, because they brought the arcade light gun shooter back after a very long absence. The worrying thing is as recently as this past week I have seen companies offer tennis racquet shells for Nintendo Switch Joycons. WHY?!
Guitar Hero/Rock Band/DJ Hero/etc.
You have to admit, Guitar Hero and its related spinoffs deserved a better fate than the world game them. Rhythm games are a genre that should be represented as a mainstream genre, not wheeled out every few years or so.
While Guitar Hero was in no way the first rhythm game, and far from the first guitar-based rhythm game, it was clearly the one that made the biggest impact. The relationship between plastic guitar and console was nothing short of a revelation, and I guarantee that to this day, you take one of these games to a party/gathering and you won’t stop playing all night. The track listing for each game was so well-rounded to appeal to rock fans and non-rock fans alike, and there’s something so captivating about playing a simplistic toy instrument along to a song, in the way that we all feel when we hear a really good song and can’t help tapping along or whipping out an impromptu air guitar solo.
Then Rock Band came along and introduced a whole band of plastic instruments, including a drum kit that for the first time, allowed players to basically learn the fundamentals of a real instrument. DJ Hero followed and tried to do for hip-hop what Guitar Hero did for rock music.
But the sad truth is, Activision, the publishers of Guitar Hero, got greedy. What started as a quirky PS2 game quickly became this gigantic multi-format behemoth that not only became an annual franchise but started to oversaturate the market with endless niche versions at a growth rate the industry just couldn’t withstand for any stretch of time. In the space of a few years, it was all over.
And when an entire peripheral-focused genre is abandoned by consumers, retailers and publishers, that leaves a lot of unwanted peripherals. Consumers didn’t want any more plastic guitars and were beginning to get bored with the ones they had, trading so many into second-hand sellers that even these shops refused to take any more at one point. Retailers couldn’t sell the stock they purchased and had to slash the price of what they had, so they had no desire to order new stock they could barely sell. And all of this sends a bit ol’ signal to the publishers, that this entire genre was dead, so they had no desire to produce any more games.
Five years later in 2015 and possibly a bit too soon, Activision and EA tried the whole thing again with Guitar Hero and Rock Band 4 – With both titles suffering a quick death in less than a year, once again littering store shelves with unsold stock and unwanted peripherals on eBay/second hand stores/the bin.