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Dr. Strangeapathy (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Console Wars)

With the announcement of Microsoft’s Xbox One this week, I have noticed the emergence of 2 groups in my Twitter feed, and indeed on games oriented sites like Gamasutra. These 2 groups while worlds apart in opinion share a strikingly similar tone...

With the announcement of Microsoft’s Xbox One this week, I have noticed the emergence of 2 groups in my Twitter feed, and indeed on games oriented sites like Gamasutra. These 2 groups while worlds apart in opinion share a strikingly similar tone.

 

On one hand, you have those whom have taken the opportunity to engage in the age-old art of the “console war”. These intrepid young Twitterers and Facebookers have predictably taken up arms and are ready to either defend Microsoft tooth and nail, declare Sony’s forthcoming Playstation 4 the early “victor”, or even (in some fringe cases) sing the praises of Nintendo’s bumbling Wii U. Some real insight and critical analysis as you can imagine can be had perusing these conversations.

 

The other camp has a dramatically different viewpoint, yet can on occasion present their personal hypotheses with as much zeal as those described above. This group is the set of people predicting (and in some cases even looking forward to) a post-console world.

 

I’m not writing this as a defense of consoles (as they traditionally exist, they have many deficiencies), or as an indictment of those whom prefer doing their gaming on a PC, tablet, phone, handheld, Game.com or whatever. But simply as a thought exercise regarding this second set of people, and wondering why there exists in some circles an exceptionally strong desire to see these “traditional consoles” go by the wayside. I also do not present this as a particularly complete thought, my words above/below serving more as a stream of consciousness propelled only by my gut reaction regarding this enthusiastic type of tweet, vine, post, what have you.

 

Ultimately organizations that are in the position to be offering an “all in one” style console, are those that are doing so in an effort to make money. This is true of all branded consumer electronics, whether an Apple iPad, a Sony Playstation, an Alienware branded PC, or a Microsoft Courier. These products aren’t produced through sheer benevolence, but for the potential they have in bolstering their respective company’s bottom line. NOW, where this reaches over and starts tugging at the heartstrings of a typical consumer is when good, progressive design is merged with this entrepreneurial spirit. I’m not going to wholesale defend this relationship as I find it icky in many ways, but for better or worse it seems to work. It’s the reason why a Steve Jobs lead Apple was so successful for so many years, while many generic MP3 player manufactures fell into obscurity. When a computer product has a satisfying user interface, with a cohesive vision, and also facilitates the easy consumption of desired content, more often than not you have a shot at a successful product.

 

The problem I see with what we call consoles, is that for many years so called “core gamers” have been held hostage by clumsy design and encroaching capitalistic opportunity (let’s be honest, NO ONE is stoked about seeing ads plastered all over the Xbox Live service they paid for). But in the end THIS interface (as well as the ecosystem facilitated by 1st/3rd party exclusives) is what people are paying for when they purchase a console, and I don’t think you can fault someone for desiring a streamlined way to consume their content. You buy into the ecosystem of any device (whether console or mobile marketplace based) for many reasons, friends/family whom already have it, work needs, whatever, and in the case of people whom are going to continue to purchase consoles, it’s people whom wish to interface with games and media on their television sets, through the portal designed by Microsoft, Sony or whomever. For better or worse, it is what it is.

 

Will this group of people that buy into these particular visions be shrinking in the upcoming generation? Signs are pointing toward yes, but those whom are in the “I no longer care camp” (myself somewhat included) should not be patting themselves on the back as prognosticators of the “fall of consoles”. In the end consoles are nothing but closed PC’s, similar to the App marketplaces that pepper our smartphones and tablets, with all the benefits and caveats that those platforms imply. Consoles are just another fork in the gaming landscape, one previously more dominant than they likely will be 5 years from now, but desirable for a particular type of game player none the less. I feel like the ONLY reason people care so much about predicting the future of the console market is our collective nostalgic attachment to the format, and either wanting to reinforce their own preconceptions about it, or revel in being contrarian about the whole enterprise.

 

We can bicker all day and all night about where console gaming is going, what tech will help us tell stories and what is just being bolstered by corporate hot air. In the end, nature will find a way and things will proceed as they proceed.

 

I guess it all just reminds me of working on my MFA, when I proposed that I would send weekly PC builds of a game I was working on to the chair of my thesis committee. The staunchly independent, Linux based professor responded “…like for Windows? That would mean nothing to me…”

 

A lot of good programming for the world’s most popular OS at the time did me.

 

At the end of the day, it’s comme ci comme ça. Games will find a way, and designers will attempt to put their vision where their desired audience will see it. Why get all hot and bothered about the hypothetical “we WILL” or “WILL NOT” be playing them on any given piece of transient hardware in the near future? 

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