The world of gaming is a rapidly changing one. Gone are the days of separate tape-decks and loading screens that took ten minutes to load a 2-D platform game (when they loaded properly) controlled by laborious key-strokes or a joystick with more triggers than a jetfighter.

While older platforms still retain a cult following and devotion from those grew up with them, the advent of the games console and controller heralded a new era that develops with almost every game release.

As the technology and capabilities of the games console have grown, so too has its popularity. No longer are people that play on computer games seen as social pariahs. The gaming industry is huge, when was the last time you turned on the television and didn’t see and advert for a console or game? The Xbox 360 alone has shifted 22 million unites worldwide.

Microsoft, surely the biggest name in computing, were late joining the market but soon became leaders of the pack and on a competing level with Sony with the release of their Xbox and its latest Xbox 360. So what makes this seventh generation console and the gaming world so popular?

Aside from the fact that the consoles can be used for more than playing games (some have argued that it gives better dvd playback than their dedicated dvd player) perhaps the biggest key to the growing hold of the games console is the social aspect.

Playing a computer game outside of an arcade was once a solitary pastime, then along game multi-player games. Suddenly the appeal of beating your mates at racing or levelling them in a fighting game took off. More and more games had multiplayer options or were developed with two players in mind – anyone remember Double Dragon?

Though what happens when beating one of your friends isn’t enough? The desire to win over more than one person lead to games that could offer split-screen gaming for four people, then connections between consoles lead to ever-increasing multiples yet the new consoles have gone further than the leads required for such hook-ups with fifth-generation consoles.

Online gaming: arguably one of the biggest motivators in the boom of console sales. There’s no need for your friends to even be in the same house to play the same game. Gamers are able to play gamers around the world and in the same way that games were once designed with two players in mind, modern games are designed with the online gaming world in mind.

Inline with the development of social gaming, the world of console and Xbox accessories has grown. Chat leads allow you to talk to the players your competing against through a wireless headset.

As consoles gain in power, soundtracks for games are no longer the two-tone beeps they once were. Games are played loud to fully appreciate a tank exploding in a World War Two game or an excited crowd in a football game. The money spent on developing a soundtrack (not only the music) for a game now takes a large chunk of the development budget on games so it’s only right to appreciate it.

The problem is that the neighbors might not appreciate it. Headphones have developed accordingly. Wireless and amplifying headphones mean that the gamer loses none of the soundtrack and doesn’t have those unsightly leads in the way – in keeping with the wireless controller. Such headphones also allow the social gaming to continue with built-in microphones so games can keep taunting their opponents.

This doesn’t mean the return to gaming being a solitary pastime – gamers on their own in a room with a pair of headphones and a console. Multiple players can join the online platforms from the same console and room, each with their own headphones or headset.

Online gaming has created social groups based around certain games and interacting with these has become part of the attraction of the games themselves: talking with gamers around the world from an armchair thanks to wireless headphones and the developments of technology in games consoles.

As the consoles themselves are available in different specifications to suit user needs, the huge scope of accessories means further customisation in gaming set-ups. Social gaming that’s personal too.

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