Which Came First, the Dreamcast or the PC?

I loved my Dreamcast. I don’t know that I loved it more than you did--passions run high when it comes to this odd little avant garde powerhouse--but I was 27 and still capable of being enthralled by streamlined gadgetry. I bought my first 32" TV for Sega's curvy white box, setting it wobbling on a tall, flimsy stand so I could show off Sonic Adventure to company. Like churches to cities in Europe, it occupied the highest position in my abode.

It was blazing fast, small and quiet. It had a 56K modem when the competition had nada. It output clean, crisp graphics when the Nintendo 64 was hamstrung by blurry, blotchy ones. I loved the breathy synth sound it made when you turned it on, and the swirl of red that manifested like an invisible finger dipped in scarlet. Even the portable game card with built-in LCD--I'm sorry, the Visual Memory Unit or VMU--was ahead of its time. Nintendo's GameCube and Sony's PS3 with their supplemental GameBoy Advance and PSP support owe a debt to the Dreamcast. Sega was doing mainstream "micro-compatibility" before anyone else.

It seems appropriate, then, that EA Sports president Peter Moore (nee Veep of Microsoft's Entertainment wing, nee long ago Sega prez) would mark the Dreamcast's 10 year US anniversary (today) by suggesting it "had a profound and lasting impact on the world of video games" and "laid the ground for what we all take for granted today." Fair points, and granted.

What's not quite as fair--or frankly accurate--is claiming that the Dreamcast "ushered in the era of connected interactive entertainment." It didn't. The PC did.

When the Dreamcast debuted in September 1999, it took its cues from the PC. I played Doom on an IPX/SPX connection (an old Novell protocol) in 1994. Quake and Duke Nukem 3D followed on 33.6K and then 56K dial-up speeds in 1996. Remember Quake clans? Huge. AOL had Neverwinter Nights already in 1991. MMO pioneer Ultima Online was large and in charge on the MMO front already in 1997. I'm skipping over all kinds of stuff, but factor your favorite MUDs or BBS-based text games and you're talking an arsenal of internet-based entertainment years before the Dreamcast came along, without which I'd argue Sega's little-console-that-could wouldn't have been possible.

The Dreamcast didn't "prove it could be done," the PC did. Credit where credit's due.

So remember the Dreamcast, but don't forget the PC. Sega deserves props for carrying the water into the living room, but it's the PC that's fundamentally responsible for services like Microsoft's Xbox LIVE and Sony's PlayStation Network. We'd do well to remember that fact.

Follow me on Twitter @game_on .

Subscribe to the Game On Newsletter

Comments