While thinking about my history with video games, I can easily associate an era or span of years in my life with a particular console and type of game. As a child, the NES dominated my game playing time, with platforming games at the top of my list. At a point, the SEGA Gensis bled into that time and became equally as important as my NES and my Game Boy. These slowly drifted away as my PlayStation and Nintendo 64 came into being. As I moved into my teenage years, the PlayStation 2 along with Tony Hawk and GTA took over my gaming time. Further along, I spread myself out between the Wii, DS, Xbox 360, and PS3. Today, I’ve associated myself with each of Nintendo and Sony’s current platforms and I tend to play a lot of different types of games.
There was a period of time however, right around the PlayStation 2 era of my life that was sort of removed from playing on a dedicated console. When the PS2 was launched, it was around the time that broadband internet connections became a common household thing. I was spending more and more of my time on the computer and less and less in front of the TV. Amidst my AIM chat sessions and the seemingly endless waits for music to download from Kazaa, I discovered a website that would soon take a lot of my time from me.
Newgrounds.com was a playground for my middle school self. There was a particular feel across the games on the site. You could easily find plenty of garbage that was unplayable, but so many of the games on the site housed that alternative style to them. It was like navigating a site that was curated by Beavis and Butt-head. A lot of the games on there felt like they had something gross inside of them, and to me at the time it was super cool.
It also didn’t hurt that there was a section on the site filled with puzzle games that rewarded the player with more and more revealing photos of women. Even in those days, finding nudity on the internet was not a difficult thing, but there was something about being able to earn that nudity through gameplay that made it exciting. While you’re judging, think about what you were doing at that age. Exactly.
Because the site was driven by creator content, almost every day gave way to a new game to play. A lot of these games were really rudimentary, ugly, or downright unplayable. However, there were many great games that hit the site and kept me returning. It was also the birthing ground for some of the best independent developers today.
The Behemoth, developers behind Castle Crashers and BattleBlock Theater got their start on Newgrounds publishing Alien Hominid as a Flash game. I remember playing that game often and appreciating the art style and gameplay. Additionally, Edmund McMillen, known for Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac got his start making Flash games and comics, among other artwork on Newgrounds. His style too lent itself to that weird counter-culture 1990s-inspired style that seemed to never appear anywhere else.
These games would not be found on consoles, because they were too niche. These weren’t the days where a game developer could work really hard and click publish and see their game on Steam. Further, the advances that Sony and others have made on consoles to accommodate independent developers were not in place at the time. If we were going to see anything in the way of these games on a console, it was because someone with money got behind one of these small creators and helped to get the game out.
Newgrounds was special in this way. It helped to define a lot of my gaming tastes. There’s a reason that no matter how old we get, we still listen to the same music that we did when we were teenagers. Not that we don’t continue to grow and listen to new things, but specific music that we loved will always be loved because it hit us during peak developmental periods. The same occurred with me for these types of games.
There were also endless point-and-click games, games that I would spend weekends playing rather than doing that socializing thing that a lot of teens were doing. I would have much rather been spending my time clicking through puzzles and playing escape the room games than staring at all of the brace-faced children who hadn’t learned proper application of makeup nor cologne.
If it weren’t for my time spent on Newgrounds, I might not have the same affinity for indie games that I do today. As console games were getting bigger and bigger, emphasizing cinematic experiences and changing the way that games told stories, Newgrounds celebrating gameplay. Again, not everything was great and not everything was even playable, but those rare nuggets were so fantastic. They were funny and challenging and they offered something that I couldn’t get anywhere else.
Gaming aside, Newgrounds was the epicenter for a lot of the Internet’s popular memes. While today most will associate reddit or imgur with memes, Newgrounds was that place in the early 2000s. It was the host for the Numa Numa Dance, and weird cartoons like Salad Fingers. There was no YouTube for us to post these things to, but there was Newgrounds.
The site still exists today, but I haven’t really returned to it in some time. It seems as though the community is still very active, and people are still celebrating that creator content platform. I think that the video game industry is in a strange place now, as we watched the middle-tier developer swallow itself into nonexistence last generation, big-budget games are taking longer to produce and more money to publish, and independent developers are celebrated and welcomed on every platform we own. While the industry is in a bit of a transitioning phase, it’s certain that there is something to play no matter where you choose to play and what you wish to play. However, this wasn’t always the case, and it was Newgrounds that helped to fill that void and create a wider acceptance for smaller, weirder, and amazing games.