Why Dreamcast?

As popular as this blog may have become in recent years - I still have no idea why people want to read my rambling diatribes about a long-dead games console, by the way - I don't go around in real life announcing myself as some kind of saviour of the Dreamcast. True, I bore my gamer friends to death with stories about long cancelled games and how this series or that game originally started life on the Dreamcast...but generally in my day to day life I barely speak about my affection for Sega's final console. It's like a dirty little secret in some ways. However, on occasion people who aren't really involved in my gaming stuff do find out about this place or see something on social media that I may have tweeted or posted, and inevitably the question comes: "why the Dreamcast?"

Work colleagues who have a passing interest in gaming or retro tech find out that I spend my free time writing this guff, and at first they think it's cool or intriguing...then become a little puzzled. And sometimes I have to just sit there and ponder to myself...why Dreamcast indeed? What is it about the Dreamcast that has fuelled my desire to continue to churn out podcasts, videos and articles and haul all my stuff across the country to events for the last 11 years? I generally fall back on the old "the Dreamcast represents so many missed opportunities" response; but the more I think about it, the more I think I have another reason. But before I share it with you, dear reader, some more about my other gaming habits...

I don't exclusively collect Dreamcast-related paraphernalia and I don't elusively play Dreamcast games. I'm not - by any stretch of the imagination - a 'fanboy.' I am a lover of retro technology in all of its guises, and games consoles just happen to fall under that umbrella for me. I love the obscure, the forgotten and the obsolete - there's something truly fascinating to me about technology that didn't catch the imagination or the attention of the mainstream audience it so desperately wanted to court; those contraptions that fell by the wayside and were largely forgotten. For every world-conquering success in the field of tech and gaming, there are hundreds of failed formats and contraptions that also set out with the same aims...but failed to catch on. And I'm not just talking about in the gaming sphere, either. The history of computing and audio visual entertainment is littered with forgotten formats and devices; many of which offered enhanced abilities over the thing that did actually become the industry standard for whatever niche it occupied. Go and have a look at The Museum of Obsolete Media or Techmoan on YouTube for further information.

To get back to the point, I love all forms of old technology and by extension I am fascinated by all forms of gaming devices. My collection of consoles and games is by no means gargantuan or exhaustive, but the little corner of my house in which I store all my trinkets of deceit is full of consoles by manufacturers that aren't Sega. Nintendo, SNK, Atari, Philips, Microsoft, Panasonic, Sony, and Amstrad devices are all jammed together in my makeshift shrine to the antiquated...and that's because I'm format agnostic. I love games of all types and from all manufacturers. So to bring it back around,what I'm trying to say is that I don't love the Dreamcast simply because it was made by Sega. And I don't blindly eschew games or consoles from other manufacturers - I just love games. That's it. I care not one iota who makes them.
So. Why Dreamcast? After mulling this over for so long I think I finally understand why. Before the Dreamcast I had a host of other systems but none of them really struck a chord with me in the same way the Dreamcast did - and still does. The reason the Dreamcast means so much to me is because it was an ever-present and intrinsic part of one of the shittiest periods of my life. I was 17 when the Dreamcast launched in the UK, and was studying at college for my A Levels (that's what you do before you go to University in the UK). It was the first console I could really afford to buy myself (partly by flogging my Nintendo 64 through an advert I put in the window of a local shop). I was an angry teen, always getting in trouble or fighting with my brother. My mum kicked me out of the house because I was a complete cunt and I ended up having to go and live with my dad. I had no job and no money but I carried on with my college course and slept in a spare room on a mattress on the floor. But I had my Dreamcast.

I used to just sit on my own in that shitty room surrounded by junk and boxes of broken crap that middle aged men accumulate in spare rooms, playing Metropolis Street Racer for hours, trying to beat hot laps to get the next car in the showroom. I didn't really have any friends - something I partly put down to the area being ever-so-slightly racist, but that's a different story - and so I just spent all my spare time playing on the Dreamcast. It's weird to think back that I was ever like that, but there it is. Through that period of just being a bit of a waster and a lazy student bastard, I played on MSR and the various other games I could get my hands on through trading stuff in and spending the money I got from my summer job before going to university. While at university I got rid of the original Dreamcast, then bought another...then sold that one too and then went for several years just going through the Gamecube and Xbox systems before finally buying another Dreamcast in 2005 and starting this whole thing.

But this is the crux of the matter. The reason the Dreamcast is so special to me, is that it really was - and this sounds so pathetic - my only friend at times. Stems of depression, years of being kicked out of this school or that school, zero self esteem and the usual teenage angst bullshit mixed with being split between one parent living in an inner city ghetto and another living in a fairly rural, prejudiced area, combined with no real sense of self identity or worth. It didn't matter when I was playing a hot lap in MSR. I didn't buy games to show them off on Twitter, or say 'look at all my retro games - aren't I awesome?!' to randoms on a forum (also - neither existed in 2000!). I bought them because they were a way of occupying myself through the shit times of my late teens. The Dreamcast literally became a sort of crutch. Other stuff happened in that period that I'm not comfortable sharing on a public blog (plus, I don't know who is going to read this); and to be honest if it'd been any other system other than the Dreamcast I probably would have found myself oddly attached to that one instead. It's just how the stars aligned, I guess. That I happened to be born when I was, and that I happened to reach my late teens at the same time that a Japanese gaming firm decided to release their final console.
In the current climate, being a 'gamer' or more specifically a 'retro gamer' has become almost a badge of nerdy honour. I see a lot of people on social media who are new to the system proclaiming their love for Shenmue or Jet Set Radio or whatever, and while I wish them no ill will I can't help but feel that it's all a bit superficial. Sure, the Dreamcast has a lot of great games and people are well within their rights to proclaim this game or that game as the best thing ever. But for me, it goes a bit deeper than that.

I also owe a lot to the Dreamcast - without it I would never have started this blog. Never have started writing about games and never have gotten to the point where I have had articles published in actual magazines and on proper games and tech websites. I wouldn't have been able to attend so many events, and I would never have met so many awesome people who have gone on to become true friends...simply because we share a passion for the Sega Dreamcast. The Dreamcast helped me through some really tough times, and also opened up a lot of doors for me. So when somebody next asks me: "why Dreamcast?" I'll be sure to send them a link to this post.

13 comments:

hoogafanter said...

Dude, I feel you brother...

I was 15 when I got my Dreamcast. I was 16 when I ran away from home and lived as a homeless scrub in Manhattan and met other friends who also played Dreamcast. When I sucked it up and came back home, Dreamcast was also my only friend. It was a short time after the Dreamcast was officially "dead", but that just meant games and peripherals were cheap. I got kicked out of high school, and immediately got a job to pull my wieght around the house. All my spare change wend to Dreamcast. I would imagine myself going on long journeys around Asia like Ryo, working hard to accumulate my own enterprise like Vyse, etc...

So yeah, with a few details being different, our stories of our love for this console are very similar. Obviously I could go on and on about how amazing the games are and how the Dreamcast represents so much about the industry that we all love. But our love for this machine is deeper than that. It's not just nostalgia, it's not just good games, it's a genuine emotion that comes from this machine being there for us when nobody else was...

Tom Charnock said...

Thanks for sharing your experience too. I was in two minds about whether I should publish this article and almost didn't, but if others can relate then I'm glad I did!

hoogafanter said...

About to post a design I made inspired by this article on the facebook page lmfao...

Lee Stevenson said...

Great post, bought my first Dreamcast behind the back of the person I was in a relationship with (I was 32) who didn't get games and thought they were just for kids, needless to say the relationship didn't last long & thanks to dreamarena & chat rooms I had relationships with people up & down the country, my first propet experience of the Internet, and there was also the great games online and offline line, that's enough from me, great post Tom.

Lee

Unknown said...

Wow. This is really touching. I hope you are doing better now, I have been reading your blog for so long that in a dumb way I feel like I know you. Everybody has his ups and downs, and there few things (or people) that go through everything with us. In my case the DC just brought me back into videogames, I saw some pictures of Capcom vs SNK 2 and it was like a dream come through. As the last few years I had only sparsely played KING OF Fighters and street fighter alpha games at the lasta arcade in my hometown. The arcadey adrenaline shots this console gave me have not been repeated ever after with older or newer consoles.

Tom Charnock said...

Thanks guy for your comments. As I said in my previous comment I was 50/50 about whether I should post this but in the end I'm glad I did because it has prompted others to share their experiences too. And I just think that's really cool, especially in this age of trolling and people being dicks to each other.

DCGX said...

My reasoning is much less depressing than everyone else it would seem, I hope that's okay.

I played the DC for the first time at a friend's house, and just had a ton of fun with every game. The graphics blew me away. At the time I was in high school and had a paper route (when that was still a thing). I had a large route, so one month's paycheck was enough to buy a DC, a couple controllers, a few games and a VMU all new. So I dove right in.

The biggest reason I'm a fan is because, like many, I don't feel like the DC got a fair shake. The ever looming PS2 didn't live up to its promises in many ways around launch, but it seemed the DC suffered instead. SEGA, unlike Sony with the Vita, kept releasing outstanding games for the DC even after they discontinued the system. Their loyalty to the DC solidified my loyalty to DC.

All the new indie games since have also played a huge part, because, in my experience, the DC was the first system to have a real dedicated fan base. Not a console-war style fan base, but a real dedication from its fans to keep it alive.

Tom Charnock said...

This wasn't intended to be a depression love-in. I just wanted to write something honest and didn't anticipate the replies at all. But yeah, there are other factors that made me come back to the DC - the games and the awesomeness of the system in general being one (two?) of them.

Caspian said...

I think all the Dreamcast (or any other console for that matter) die-hards have a story that is similar to some extend. Personally I also associate the Dreamcast with a not-so-easy period of my life. Living in a strict home environment as a teenager, I made my rebellion by buying the Dreamcast. I still remember the seller's surprise seeing a kid with a handfull of money that took me endless months to gather. Why Dreamcast? The name was so cool and the graphics were awesome. Playing with it was an adventure on its own. I had to take care so that my parents were absent and I had to keep an eye for their return. I even ruined the bottom of an armchair in my parents' bedroom and hid the whole stuff inside it. They only found out about a year later when my father returned home totally unexpectedly :)

This console happened to be the best friend I had for quite a while, helping me to let some teenage steam off through some amazing video game experiences. If I look back at those years and not have a negative feeling, I owe it to the Dreamcast to a great extend.

Damon Fillman said...

Thank you Tom for sharing your deep, touching story. I was in middle school when the Dreamcast released here in the states (9/9/99) and I remember that day fondly because I neglected to purchase a VMU so I was forced to leave the system on 24/7 or lose all of my progress in Sonic Adventure. Luckily, my mom was kind enough to purchase a VMU for me so that problem didn't persist.

More importantly, I remember vividly the day Shenmue released in the United States because the small handful of friends I had during that time cut all ties with me. To this day, I don't know why that occurred, but the Dreamcast was always there to pick up the pieces. Long sessions of Phantasy Star Online and Skies of Arcadia distracted me enough to forget that I lost the only friends I had. Since then, gaming has always been a sort of comfort food for me but the Dreamcast stands out as being the first console to help me cope with loneliness.

Cheers, man. I've been reading since 2005.

Cj Py said...

There was something in the style and audio of Dreamcast that was oddly comforting and inviting making it at times intense but fun. This I felt was unique to,and consolidated all in one place on,the console.

Sub Skrilla said...

Glad you decided to share in the end Tom. I totally get the appreciation for the missed opportunities of the DC and I think the attachment people have to dreamcast seems to me to be so much purer than for any other console, the love for it is amazing. I loved my few consoles growing up but the Dreamcast was always and still is, more special, something really hard to pinpoint. There was just a magic to it, feeling endless possibility, feeling how ahead of the curve it was, oh and the first console I actually bought with my own money. Its hard to word how different it felt to anything else I owned. Anyway before I ramble on too much just, thanks again for sharing.

P.S Do you own a 3DO? I only heard about them after reading console wars and wondered what you think of it if you've played, none of my friends have heard of it and I don't recall anything about its launch in the UK

Tom Charnock said...

Hi Sub Skrilla - thanks for sharing your memories (and the same to everyone else who has commented here). I do indeed own a 3DO - the FZ1 model. I think it's a great system and has a lot of really cool games. I've got all the classics like Space Hulk, Road Rash, Need for Speed etc but I also like some of the less well regarded games like Star Fighter and Gex. I do recall it being around in the UK but it was way out of my price range back then. It was what I consider an 'exotic' console, very expensive. Same as stuff like the Jaguar and the Neo Geo. Only ever saw them on TV or in magazines really. Cool system though!