On the wrong side of history: an ode to the Sega Dreamcast

I was a Sega Dreamcast devotee, which is to say I was one of those guys who fanatically defended a system that was, from the beginning, doomed to fail.

Here’s why: it was the best system on the market, and if you don’t believe me you’re an absolute fool who knows nothing about video games. Oh, man, don’t tell anyone, but I just GEEKED OUT on you right there.

The Birth of Dreamcastness

This was the winter of 2000, about a year after release and a few months into my job at the St. Cloud FuncoLand, a trashy yet endearing video game store that specialized in hoarding valuable Super Nintendo games and hounding Playstation 2 fans. The store was a comic book cave without the comic books, replaced instead with their more expensive and more acceptable counterpart, and we held our opinions high and our rants even higher.

And we were all Sega Dreamcast devotees. We were enamored with the little system. Its awkward controllers (which we defended, despite hypocritically hounding Xbox owners for their system’s too-small paddles), its optimized-Windows operating system (which allowed for countless imports), its NFL 2K series – it was all a dream, representing the future of video gaming.

But it wouldn’t last. Another two years and it was done. Gone forever. Its final coffin nails were hammered in by Sony’s grasp on a key video game truth: a good system is key, but great games are crucial.

The Death of Dreamcastness

I, and the lot of us, landed on the wrong side of history. In doing so, we also saw a legion of like-minded customers – people who came to us for advice, who we coaxed into like-mindedness – landing on the same side. The wrong side. The losing side.

When new technology is released to the world, we’re blinded by what’s happening now. We can’t help it. There are no rules. There are no trends to follow. There are no clues as to which technology will ultimately win out. Simply put, the landscape has yet to be mapped out.

This leads to a costly choice. We hyped the Sega Dreamcast – and, doing so, convinced hundreds that it would be worthwhile, costing them a good chunk of money and (eventually) agreeing that, while the Dreamcast was the better system, it wasn’t the most successful. And a non-successful system isn’t going to make games, rendering the “better system” argument null.

The Moral

So there we sat. The wrong side of history, hanging out with betamax, the Sega Game Gear and the ABA, patiently waiting for HD DVD to join us in a few years.

But it wasn’t all for naught. When the Nintendo Gamecube was released, I had learned my lesson. I sat back. I waited. And, despite the pro-Nintendo leanings of our store, I correctly predicted it would fail.

I had been burned before. I now understood what it was like to be on the wrong side of history. I now understood the importance of waiting a few rounds before entering the fight.


(Oh, BTW. This longish Dreamcast soliloquy was inspired by Consollection, a fantastic, probably totally exhaustive timeline of the video game console.)

This was lovingly handwritten on January 18th, 2010