The hour of truth is nearly upon us. In one week, the successor to the Xbox will reveal itself to the world, and we, the thumbstick-twiddling ludics of that world, will know the shape of the much-prophesied Next Generation. The instruments of the mightiest sigils, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, shall align in orbit of the blogosphere and, by the holiday season, all the new technotrons shall be available for purchase. Still, I wish I were more excited.
Wait! I’m not so cold-hearted that I despise all new electronics. And my love for games runs deeply enough that it can be a source of great enthusiasm. It’s just that the console I really want seems so far off. Let me explain.
The game consoles available now (and, it seems, in the Next Generation) focus on exclusivity. They are built with unique controllers. They tout games playable only on their own hardware. They sport online stores that feature a select few games made by a small club of large companies. Everything about them espouses a vision for video games that is narrow, confined to whatever few experiences are currently considered most popular with teenage boys. These machines represent the awesome power of multinational corporations focused into the most perfectly rendered adolescent power fantasies the world has ever seen.
But games are so much more! I write not of potential, but of the current facts. From mobile platforms to browser games to indie executables, we can find interactive systems that cover a huge range of subject matter, play styles and values. We have personal memoirs, rich narratives, complex strategic schema, and just about everything else you can make with buttons and pictures. During this time of tremendous creative output, the console I want is the one that gets out of its own way and uses that processing power to connect me as directly as possible to the game development Lifestream.
Folks exist who are onto this tip. The Ouya wants to be this machine. Its branding has been gracefully articulated alongside a mission of self-effacing creative conductivity. Unfortunately, it gets infantilized by games press, mocked for lacking the computing muscle of its big-name antecedents as well as their handful of over-produced spectacles. I cheer for the Ouya to survive and thrive, but this is clearly an uphill battle. The Steam Box also aspires to become the inclusive games machine. It may bring the processing heat, but it loses some public confidence for its Linux preference and the fact that there may be multiple Steam Boxes, each made by a different company and sporting a different build. The former issue has been exaggerated in importance but the latter is cause for concern; if Valve doesn’t care to stamp their brand on a single machine, it starts to look more like they’re just sponsoring PCs rather than revolutionizing the console market. The New Console will not be someone’s side project. It will require a lot of man-hours, developing it will cost a lot of money and it will make a lot of money.
It seems as though we’re still at least a generation out. The Ouya likely won’t get enough market share to make big waves. The Steam Box could collapse into being a niche within the PC market. The Playstation 4 is wasting time on a Share button. The Wii U is torn between being as gimmick-focused as the Wii and as popular as the Gamecube. Will the new Xbox see through the haze of trends and deliver the future? Eh. I’m bracing for Kinect Plus.