At the time of writing, the Playstation 2 was just celebrating its 20th anniversary, resting in its earned laurels as likely the most successful console of all time – not just in obvious and near-insurmountable market share and financial success, but as the All Mother of the most varied and well-regarded game library we will likely ever see. This is assuming Fully Luxury Automated Communism doesn’t turn its efforts towards the proletariat dream of, in the words of Revolver Ocelot, ‘a console to surpass the Playstation 2’.
It is impossible to overestimate the impact of the PS2 – I’m not too interested in talking about the financial side of things, because fetishing the amount of money funnelled upwards in society is grossly wrong to me. But to give a quick rundown of things – estimated units sold range between 155 to 158 million separate consoles, the indisputable king of the console boom; almost 4000 individual games were licensed for sale, of which hundreds can be said to form a an overwhelming portion of the canon of modern #gaming; and it was still worth the cost of producing them until 2013, the eve of the PS4’s release. That’s some king shit, to put it mildly.
But I’m more interested in what the PS2 means in a cultural context. Nintendo’s one-two punch of the NES & the N64 did the job of making gaming a viable pastime, through their stability allowing the public to come around to the prospect of investing in a home console. They did the hard yards of saving the industry from becoming a niche interest. But the PS2 remains an indelible presence in the cultural consciousness because of the sheer ubiquity of what it could bring to the table compared to previous offerings, and the time it arrived.
A lot of the PS2’s love in our minds comes from the sheer luck of the time it was marketed, and Sony’s quick identification of the themes of the day. The year is 2000 – through the hard work of thousands of coders and software designers, and hundreds of thousands of collective hours between them, Y2K is averted and what was once an existential threat is callously misremembered as a global society’s naive exaggeration. We can love technology again! The utopian future is ours! Once the fate of humanity was assured, we could look onward and upward as we did before. Sony, acutely aware of this general feeling of pre-9/11 optimism, brushed aside their aging PS1 to release the console of the future, tapped in with all sorts of edgy marketing to tap into the lingering Matrix Is So Fucking Cool vibes still present at the time. Sony presented the PS2 as an antidote, the sexy pill to the leftover Luddite brain rot that the threat of Y2K had briefly stirred up. It was the iMac of the console boom, neatly able to insert itself into society’s idea of what ‘sleek’ meant – while the iMac prided itself on its neon transparent plastic coverings, to be used by Ally McBeal, the PS2 sold itself as the obsidian-layered & aloof girl that you (as envisioned by creepy ass marketing departments) kinda wanted to fuck. The Angelina Jolie-in-Hackers of consoles.
But more than that, compared to the previous cultural kingpin N64, it was highly adaptable; Sony was far more willing to allow violence and mature themes in their flagship properties, as it had no intention of tying itself down as a ‘family’ console – it was for the individual, and so it could risk a lot more in terms of what IPs it could potentially offer. The lack of sheepishness towards what the PS2 would open its legs for solidified its reputation as having one of the most varied libraries in all of gaming – while the brothel was regulated, it was a brothel nonetheless. As long as you paid up, all comers were okay. More than that, it was perceived as technologically far more ‘in the moment’ than PCs or other consoles at the time; the PS2 gained notoriety as the cheapest DVD player around, because it could do all its advertised functions while still letting you watch the lesbian kissing scene in Cruel Intentions at 10pm, once you got bored of SSX. The PS2 set out to kill the DVD player market before it could get off the ground, and while it didn’t quite succeed, there was little Panasonic et al could do to fight off their competitor.
Even once 9/11 systematically destroyed any hope of the utopian, gleaming toga-wearing future the year 2000 promised, the PS2’s appeal remained evident in the type of rumour that unfortunately wouldn’t be allowed to exist nowadays, because it would have unironically gotten someone killed. The PS2’s place in pop culture became evident when it was rumoured that Saddam Hussein had bought 4000 of them to amalgamate as some kind of supercomputer, subverting America’s hegemonic threats with the unbridled power of Iraqi Ubermensch engineering. It naturally didn’t hold any water, as the PS2 had trouble loading Jak & Daxter at times, let alone the bulk of Saddam Hussein’s missile program.
But that was the imagined power of the PS2 at the time – the collective adoration for the console that had brought us Final Fantasy X could have been the harbinger for our doom, because we allowed it to have such power! Oh, our folly! In a way, the threat of destruction by Saddam Hussein allowed the PS2 to develop a whole new kind of staying power that Sony’s marketing department could have never dreamed of. Happy anniversary, baby. I still love you.