There are by now nine basic generations of home video game consoles, dating back to the release of the first home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, in 1972. In this time home gaming has evolved from the manipulation of a couple of monochrome dots along a television screen to the exploration of almost photorealistic virtual worlds. It is important to note that the generations discussed here are not discrete: there is a fair amount of overlap. Consoles can be discontinued a few years after their successor is released and competing consoles are not necessarily released right after each other or anything close to simultaneously. Also, many consoles are backward compatible, meaning they can play games from their immediate ancestor console. Xbox games can be played on an Xbox 360 for example.
To navigate through this feature, select the numbered generation at the top of this box. In each section, you'll find a link to explore our collections within these eras. You can find more information about these games and consoles in the Video & Computer Games section of this guide.
As we have already mentioned this generation dates back to 1972 with the release of the Magnavox Odyssey. The release of pong followed later in the same year and the release of Coleco Telstar followed this in 1976 (Coleco later went bankrupt in 1980). The games released on these consoles used the limited digital technology available to produce minimalist arrangements of moving pixels. These were too simple to resemble anything in real life to the extent later generations elaborated, although pong is a two-dimensional recreation of ping pong that is easily recognizable.
The second generation saw the release of the Atari 2600, which featured more complex graphics and design than previous consoles. Two of the most popular games on this console were an early iteration of Pac-Man and Combat (a game featuring battle between opposing military aircraft).
For more Atari 2600 games, check out our catalog holdings.
The third generation saw the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Atari 7800, and the Sega Master System. Utilizing greater processing power, these systems introduced more visually and interactively complex games. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), for example, saw the breakthrough introduction of games like Super Mario Bros and the adventure fantasy game The Legend of Zelda.
For more NES games, check out our catalog holdings.
For more Sega games, check out our catalog holdings.
The fourth generation included consoles like the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo. The Sega Genesis introduced Sonic the Hedgehog in an effort to compete with Nintendo’s Mario franchise. Meanwhile, the SNES expanded the Mario franchise with Super Mario World and later Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. This generation saw an explosion in the variety of different games, from sports and fighting games to RPGs.
For more Sega games, check out our catalog holdings.
For more SNES games, check out our catalog holdings.
Within the fifth generation, the Sega Saturn and Playstation were released around the same time in 1995 with the Nintendo 64 coming later in the following year. The Nintendo 64 was unique among these as it used cartridges like earlier consoles while the Saturn and Playstation used CD-ROMs. Utilizing a breakthrough in memory card technology, the Playstation was able to enable longer narrative gaming experiences like that of games like Final Fantasy VII. The Nintendo 64 had the same capability but was compatible with far fewer games, although it continued to release exceedingly popular new iterations of trusted franchises like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The console was innovative in certain ways as well. The James Bond game Goldeneye 007 represented a breakthrough in the development of the first-person shooter, which would consequently become one of the most popular genres in all of gaming.
For more Nintendo 64 games, check out our catalog holdings.
For more Playstation games, check out our catalog holdings.
The sixth generation saw further developments in graphics and processing power. The fourth main consoles that constitute this generation are the Sega Dreamcast, the Sony Playstation, the Nintendo Gamecube, and the Microsoft Xbox (although at the beginning of this generation Microsoft was not a player yet in the industry). It saw the introduction of online gaming to the console format. These consoles featured increasingly imaginative games that utilized an improved audiovisual capacity. Some of the more popular titles for Playstation include Kingdom Hearts II (a high fantasy game) and God of War (an action-adventure game inspired by Greek mythology). Some of the Gamecube’s most popular titles were sequels or expansions of beloved franchises like Super Mario Sunshine and Metroid Prime (the continuation of a series that had been skipped over by the Nintendo 64). Some of the most popular games on the Xbox were Halo and Halo 2, a first-person shooter series that immersed gamers in a rich and complex science fiction world. The Sega Dreamcast, just as it was the first of this generation to emerge, was the first to be discontinued in 2001. This left the console field to be dominated by the three companies that persist to the present day: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo.
For more Playstation 2 games, check out our catalog holdings.
For more Nintendo GameCube games, check out our catalog holdings.
For more Xbox games, check out our catalog holdings.
The seventh generation of console gaming saw the further expansion of online gaming to match the proliferation of high-speed WiFi. For the first time, these consoles permitted gamers to download games and related content directly via online stores accessed through the console. The main consoles representing this generation are the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, and the Nintendo Wii. Among these, the Nintendo Wii is unique as it relied on a remote that enabled kinetic gameplay. One of the most popular games that utilized the full extent of motion sensitivity was Wii Sports, which provided gamers with a virtual experience of bowling, tennis, and other activities. The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 both shared select titles in common and competed with differing titles. Popular games unique to the Playstation 3 include The Last of Us (a post-apocalyptic adventure game) and inFamous (a superhero game). Popular games unique to the Xbox 360 include Gears of War 2 (a post-apocalyptic war game) and Halo 3 (a science fiction first-person shooter game).
For more Playstation 3 games, check out our catalog holdings.
For more Nintendo Wii games, check out our catalog holdings.
For more Xbox 360 games, check out our catalog holdings.
The Eighth generation saw the release of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One in 2013 and the Nintendo Switch later in 2017. The Playstation 4 and Xbox One continued to improve processing speed, supporting up to 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution. The Nintendo Switch is innovative because it is the first hybrid console. That is, it can be docked and used as a home console or as a portable device. Popular games on the Nintendo Switch include Welcome to Animal Crossing: New Horizons as well as Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield. Popular games unique to the PS4 include Shadow of the Colossus (an action-adventure monster-fighting game) and Horizon: Zero Dawn (a post-apocalyptic fantasy role-playing game). Popular games unique to the Xbox One include Sea of Thieves (a pirate adventure game) and Forza Horizon 3 (a realistic racing game).
For more Playstation 4 games, check out our catalog holdings.
For more Nintendo Switch games, check out our catalog holdings.
For more Xbox One games, check out our catalog holdings.
The ninth generation is the current generation of console gaming and comprises the Xbox Series X and the PS5. These consoles feature almost photorealistic graphics and an extensive array of games in every conceivable genre. Popular games unique to the PS5 include Returnal (a science-fiction adventure game) and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart (an adventure game that continues a series begun with the PS2). Popular games unique to the Xbox X Series include Halo Infinite (a continuation of the series mentioned above).
For more Playstation 5 games, check out our catalog holdings.
For more Xbox Series X games, check out our catalog holdings.
Video games have long been created and designed by, as well as enmeshed in, marginalized communities. Unfortunately, however, members of these groups, and their experiences, have not always been represented the gaming industry or games themselves. This feature will highlight games from our collections that feature protagonists or significant characters, and/or were created and designed by individuals, from underrepresented communities.
To learn more about this topic, feel free to engage with some of the resources we used to create this feature below:
Image courtesy of the The Gender Spectrum Collection
While we have a significant collection of tabletop games, the titles featured here were created or designed by women or LGBTQ creators.
All of these puzzles were designed by BIPOC artists. We also have a series of puzzles on order from Apostrophe Puzzles, which you can find here.
Music has long been an integral part of the experience of games, with sound being just as important a design element as the visual. In many cases, the composers of video game soundtracks have become well-known for their beautiful work, from Koji Kondo's formative contributions to early Nintendo games to the haunting compositions of Akira Yamaoka for the Silent Hill series. Moreover, it was announced in 2022 that video game scores will be celebrated in their own category for the first time at the Grammy's in 2023, joining the BAFTA's in acknowledging and further cementing the significance and legacy of music in games.
In this feature and playlist, we want to highlight some of the most memorable musical moments and soundtracks across video game history, from the bleeps and bloops of Super Mario Bros to the orchestral beauty of games like Journey and Kentucky Route Zero. To learn more, consult some of the resources and lists we used to create this overview below, as well as books from our collection relevant to game music in the second tab of this feature.
Videogames and gaming in general has often created spaces where people can escape, join a new community, and redefine reality - even if only for a couple hours. As such, videogames have become a wonderful resource for gender diverse and transgender people as they can log in and change how they appear in a world that they control. This feature shares the concept of transgender video game worldmaking and character building as well as spotlighting several games that transgender and gender diverse people created in order to process the stresses and pressures of gender norms in everyday life.