Friday, May 31, 2013


I'm going to take a break from bitching about the awful movies this summer is vomiting up, casually mentioning dead folks in Syria, profusely apologizing for delayed posts, or whatever usually goes here on Fridays and whinge about the next generation of console games.

As most of you know, I play video games the same way most Americans play sports: shouting encouragement from a chair while someone else does it. I read articles, watch videos, and visit gaming webcomics regularly.  You might think that makes me somewhat unqualified to talk about emerging developments of an interactive medium.
But the people who are purchasing the next generation of consoles aren't well-informed, rational individuals who are critically approaching a serious purchase, so if anything my lack of knowledge makes me a valid representative.

I'm not sure the Wii U is Nintendo's next generation offering. Is it? It's just a Wii with a new gimmick, right? I don't see how it's anything but a slightly upgraded Wii. I have a Wii and I don't think I need another one. It entertains my kids and me and plays DVDs. I'm not feeling like it's something I need until I stumble into a GameStop, emerge from it with a game picked in a haze of barely restrained suburban existential panic, and angrily try to return it because it won't work in my regular old Wii.

Then there's the Xbox One, which is neither the first Xbox nor the successor an Xbox Zero. I guess it's an all-in-one platform, but it looks like one of those god-awful cable boxes that can also play shitty DVD-based games. Its visual design doesn't say "console" because the Xbox isn't a console; it's a god-awful cable box that can also play shitty Xbox One games. It's neither an omni-capable computer nor a piece of reliable, multi-function home electronics.

Instead of the versatile Xbox 360 platform that builds additional functions over a core of video gaming,  the third Xbox assumes you want a device that costs several hundred dollars that won't work unless you have an internet connection. It assumes that you don't own your games; you own a license to run a game until Microsoft says you can't anymore.

It assumes you want Microsoft equipment constantly monitoring your living room/bedroom/rec room in case you want to use it without picking up a game controller. Sure, there are some people who will fully embrace the hands-free interaction afforded by the Kinect, but most of us can't turn our televisions on with mind waves, so don't sell your fingers to the pawn shop just yet.

Worse, while I realize that every technology is shitty until it isn't, motion controls have never worked and most people don't have any confidence in them. Forced adoption of technologies only works if people have to choose it, and people don't have to choose the Xbox. Sony's Playstation 4 is almost a sole competitor. Valve's Steam Box, a single-purpose electronic device which connects to your television and plays video games would be a good competitor, even though it's more fever dream than product at this point.

Even an imaginary Apple console, designed from the paranoid fantasies of stoner Microsoft execs, could leverage the Apple app store and reliable brand name would crush if they could make a controller that didn't just look like a Wiimote with clear buttons (I imagine an Apple design team creating dozens of designs based on aesthetics and always—always—coming back to a shiny white rectangle with two buttons and a D-pad. Sometimes, when they realize what they've created and the true futility of their efforts, one of them cries a little bit.).

Personal Computers are the last real threat to a Microsoft console. That's probably not bad news for them. I mean, the rumbles of discontent over how Windows 8 handles gaming seems to have quieted down so I assume they either worked that out or all the bitching gamers figured out there was a button for that or something [Since I wrote this, Microsoft added the Start button back, so I'm going to be insufferably smug all weekend.].

It's strange to be living in a world where consoles try to do so many things outside of their core competencies that they no longer exist as a single item that does one thing well, but instead sit on your shelf doing a mediocre job at everything. But it wouldn't really surprise me if that's the definition of success these days.

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