When something "arrives", in a popular culture sense, it's never to the tune of trumpets and a standing ovation. Nothing can ever be that spontaneous. Instead, you just wake up one day and realise that something which used to exist around the fringes, which people may have been aware of but were never that into, is suddenly there. In your face.
I had that moment with video games over the weekend, when I finally sat down with a copy of Ice-T's rap documentary Something From Nothing. Towards the end, there's a sequence where Ice-T is seen wearing a Gears of War t-shirt. Now, six years ago, when I first started in this job, as stupid as it sounds in 2012, that would probably have ended up on this website as "news".
On the weekend, though, the thought didn't even cross my mind. Which I think, as isolated and insignificant as the incident had been, says a lot about how far video games have come in that time.
When I started working here in late 2006, the first Modern Warfare had yet to be released. People didn't play games on Facebook. The Wii had yet to be released. There was no such thing as a smartphone, you couldn't really play games for free, indie developers weren't getting exposure or money and online multiplayer was still finding its feet.
As I write this in 2012, all those things have come to pass, and have helped transform video games from a hobby indulged by kids and nerds into a global juggernaut, a multi-billion dollar industry that can deliver entertainment experiences to just about anyone on the planet with a half-capable piece of technology in their house (or even their hands).
Almost everyone plays games. You see commercials on TV, in front of movies. Demographics which previously would have been uninterested, or even hostile to the medium, are now being catered for by savvy companies like Nintendo, Activision, Zynga and EA. You see games appear on talk shows like Jimmy Fallon and Conan as though they were the latest Hollywood blockbuster. We've even, somehow, got a good video game movie.
You can look at that list of contributors above and argue that one or more of those things has been more important in video games' rise than others. That may be the case, but I think it's the combination of them all, working together across a single console generation and the re-emergence of the PC as a gaming powerhouse, teaming up with the social gaming revolution and the rise of smartphones, that's created something of a video gaming "golden age".
I mean, what else are you going to call it? World of Warcraft has nothing to do with Farmville. Modern Warfare's rise to prominence is completely unrelated to the explosion of handheld gaming on smartphones. Yet all those things, and more, have all taken off, all secured massive new audiences, and they all did it at the same time.
It's that isolated approach that's caused the whole thing to sneak up on me. The Wii had its audience. Call of Duty has its. There are people who bought a DS, people who play games on Facebook, and people who play $US1 games on their iPhone. Some people may be all of those people at once, but many will be just one. If you only ever look at that one person's market, or you yourself are part of just one market, you might not be seeing the forest for the trees. And it's one hell of a forest.
So, back to Ice-T. The guy is a notorious Xbox 360 shooter fan. But seeing this represented in a movie like Something From Nothing, while it may once have been interesting, something for gamers to point to and say "hey, we're getting there, famous people like this too!" was just something to be expected. It would have been more surprising to see millionaire rap stars who didn't play video games.