Marc Alan Fishman: Press Start – Or Just Turn It Off!
So Microsoft debuted the XBOX One this week and the video game fanboys dropped trou and prayed to Lord Gates. With it, the next generation of consoles are all spec’ed out, and being built by poor children of other countries. Err, I mean by robots. Yes. Souless, never-hungry robots. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, or just the fact that I’m getting older and crankier by the day (something I may attribute to being in proximity of several fine folks on this very site), but I’m finding it harder and harder to care.
My generation was gleefully known as the ‘Nintendo Generation. When the original NES debuted, I was at the perfect age. With careful prodding, pleading, and sad-face-making, my parents dropped the $100 (a veritable fortune at the time for a lowly birthday / Chanukah gift) for the system. Elation, kiddos. Elation. Flash forward sometime later, and I was able to finagle the Super Nintendo when it debuted. I remember with near photographic memory the reflection of my beardless cherubic face in the glossy UV coating on the box… declaring all the amazing new games debuting with the console –none of which were included, save for Super Mario World.
This cycle continued all throughout high school: the SNES begat the Sega Saturn (don’t judge me). The Saturn begat the Dreamcast (continue to hold that tongue). The Dreamcast gave way to the original XBOX. And I remember it so well; plunking down my shiny new credit card for the $650 charge (the system, a game, and the extra controller, don’t-cha-know), and then holing up at a friend’s apartment for what would end up being one of very few all-night gaming sessions. See, even in my early twenties I was a budding old man. But I digress.
The newest line of video game consoles continue the trend to move away from entertainment add-on devices to full on hubs of all things do-and-watchable. Literal, visceral computers minus a keyboard and mouse. They’re WiFi-enabled, app-store-shoppable, and motion-sensitive. The XBOX One will apparently be ‘on’ all the time, and be able to take voice commands at will. XBOX, turn on. Bring up Netflix. Order me a pizza. Raise me my child. They’ve even showed a possible add-on that will project environmental graphics onto the walls and surfaces of your media room. I’ve seen the future folks… and I can’t wait to tell my son about how in my day our graphics were crappy and damn-it we liked it that way.
So why all the hatespew, you ask? All allusions to getting older aside, it’s frankly a matter of taste. The commitment of time a child (or teen, or adult for that matter) can sink into a video game is mind-numbing. Pun intended. Games today simply try too hard to be immersive. One simply doesn’t turn on the game, play a level or two, and call it a night. Suffice to say, that is what Angry Birds was designed to do. With the next generation of systems on their way, this is the trend that will continue. The phone will be my Nintendo. The XBOX will demand I plotz for 90 minutes if I intend to game.
The late Roger Ebert was adamant that even the best games were hardly art, I’ve never subscribed to that point of view. While Halo won’t sit on my shelf next to Inglorious Basterds, it certainly provided more smiles and provoked more thoughts than Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. But therein lies the blessing and the curse of modern gaming. The more video games mimic real life / real cinema / long-format stories, the more time and energy will be required of the player. Who here would watch The Godfather trilogy in 20-minute chunks?
And while yes, this doesn’t include Madden, fighting games, or arcade games… even there Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft are subtly demanding more and more of us as players – both in our time, and from our bank account). Madden may have that quick game, but the appeal (for those not online) is in the franchise mode-built for hours-long tweaking, prodding, and finessing. Fighting games demand the completest beat the game with every fighter to unlock a plethora of add-ons. And even the arcade games of my youth, repackaged and resold to me through countless app stores, stack themselves in such a manner that pleads I play it… remember how much I loved it… beat it… and buy the next one.
As it stands today I play only two games on my XBOX. Batman: Arkham City and WWE ‘13. Both provide me enough fun in what brief times I pull myself away from all my grown-up responsibilities. I assume in a year’s time, my stone facade will crack under the pressure of the pretty new graphics and promises of full-on entertainment media-center domination. But until that time, I’ll happily clutch my XBOX 360 like the old fart I’m becoming… and relish my memories of the simpler times. When up-up down-down left-right left-right B-A Start meant I could beat Contra, and head outside. When a round-robin tourney of Virtual On or Mario Kart meant bragging rights for the week to come. When the game manual delivered all the story I’d need in three paragraphs or less.
Those, my friends, were the days.
SUNDAY: John Ostrander
MONDAY: Mindy Newell