Despite the flood of revolutionary new videogaming announcements at this year's E3 -- the promise of as many as three revolutionary new video game control schemes, gaming consoles that finally bring convergence to the living room and, most importantly, that "Boy and His Blob" remake -- I can't help but mourn for a long-deceased convention of the gaming industry.
The most noteworthy announcements related to videogaming -- and this will the first of many times I begin using this phrase in this life: when I was growing up -- were about bits.
"Dude, videogame console XX is going to have DOUBLE the bits of console YY!!!"
"Dude, I heard Sega's coming out with a 32-bit system!"
"Dude, everyone knows that your TurboGrafx 16 is really only 8 bits and that makes you a complete pussy but when you're done with Legendary Axe you should come over and play Actraiser because it's totally awesome and truly 16-bit from the Mode 7 graphics to the stereophonic Koshiro score but you wouldn't know what those are because you're only playing a lame 8-bit system in your stupid bedroom that your stupid mom spent $400 on because she's stupid and so are you though that TurboExpress thing sounds pretty cool I mean whoever heard of 16-bit games I mean 8-bit games being able to be played on a handheld so bring it over when you come even though my Super NES is way better."
As a kid who knew nothing about cars but worshipped the SuperFX chip and spent many of his high school years playing Shadows of the Empire, bits were a more tangible metric of machismo and horsepower than... well, horsepower. Every 4-5 years, a new generation of video game consoles would emerge, effectively doubling the bittage of the previous epoch -- and it was awesome.
Bit cycles meant as much to me as did the Calendar Round to a Mayan, a means for marking time, quantifying progress and even reflecting upon my age. I'll never forget turning 16 and trying to deny my 'childish' excitement over the Nintendo 64, a battle that was lost in about 3 days because -- come on -- we were talking about 64 bits!
Now, I have no idea what an increase in bits actually did (and honestly, I still don't), though the lovingly designed diagram above shows that clearly, graphics improved considerably along with the bits, so something had to be happening. Regardless of what they actually did, however, bits remained a symbol of clean advancement, not unlike report cards and summer vacation.
1999 marked the end of bittage, when Sony's PlayStation 2 touted its 'bit-less' Emotion Engine. (That year, the 128-bit Sega Dreamcast became the last console to draw attention to its, um, bits.*)
We've now jumped several console generations and it's clear that the bittage conversation is over. In its place is a murkier sense of advancement, trumpeted by motion-sensitive controllers, handheld consoles, online play and a blurring of media platforms. In the end, it really shouldn't matter that much, but...
*Nearly 10 years later, the bit needle hasn't moved an inch: this generation's Playstation 3 remains at only 128 bits.
Dude, we should totally be at, like, 1024 bits by now.