Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why Do We Even Have Consoles?

The past couple of days people have been complaining about the X-Box One with a series of legitimately complaints, because quite frankly, the X-Box One is going to suck. There's no way around that. The marketing decisions behind that machine are absolutely bonkers, and they're going to dig themselves the biggest, deepest grave I've ever seen a gaming company dig itself into. That aside, the whole ordeal has resurrected one of my age old complaints, dreams, and realizations, and that is: why the fuck do we even still have video game consoles?

A lot of people complain when I say this. They talk about "healthy competition" and, well, okay. I still don't need to buy a Disney brand DVD player to watch Tangled, and I don't need to buy a Warner brand CD player to listen to Linkin Park (People still listen to CDs, right? Linkin Park is still licensed to Warner, right? Linkin Park is still relevant, right?) The competition argument just doesn't make much sense to me, and neither do the separation of our utilities.

We live in a time when we don't need video game consoles, not exclusive ones anyway. Hell, I'm amazed the home video market still exists with video game consoles being capable of playing videos of both the DVD and Blu-ray formats in addition to playing games in addition to having Internet browsers in addition to having a billion custom apps in addition to also handling music in addition to having a thousand output opportunities in addition to handling all of this media from a USB hard drive. But you know what else does that?

A computer.

Now, I'm not going to tote the computer "master race" bullshit, because I actually don't do a whole lot of computer gaming. Home computers simply haven't developed in a direction that pleases me, but that doesn't mean they can't, and they definitely should have. A long time ago. We're at a time when pretty much every family as a local Wi-Fi network, so there isn't any reason variously sized monitors (televisions) could be displayed around the home each one syncing with controllers, remotes, whatever.

But even taking a step backwards from that, let's look at a computer tower. Most of them can handle gaming, despite all the ubernerds bitching about the necessity of a high performance system. I have a pretty ratty set up, always have, and I've only ever had minimal issues with gaming. Nothing that's any worse than my dedicated consoles have given me. Progressive TV screens are already pretty much computer monitors, and it wouldn't be that difficult to include an RF input on the back of the tower for analogue televisions. This is something which can be done. Why isn't it possible for games manufacturers simply to release their games on DVDs and Blu-ray discs like everybody else, and allow those things to be played on the average PC?

Let me take a brief moment to explain that when I say "PC", I refer to all home computers (Macs, Windows, Linux, doesn't matter). I know this is probably wrong, and it might confuse some people. I've heard a few people use PC only in reference to Windows. Whatever. To me it means "Personal computer", and that's about it.

Some people complain about "Oh, well, but the ingenuity! The consoles with their controllers and their motion controls! How would the Wii work?" and to that I say: USB peripherals. Is it so hard to imagine plugging the motion sensing bar into a USB port? Controllers, too? Or maybe just a type of wireless receiver which accepts the commands of various controllers? This isn't rocket science, and this isn't difficult to figure out. Would it hold games back? No, absolutely not.

If anything it would keep them relevant, and that's part of the real problem here, isn't it? If people retained the ability to play old games, publishers would lose the ability to repackage them. That's what the real reason for the removal of the GBA slot on DS systems is. Kind of weird how that happened right alongside the launch of the handheld WiiWare market, which was closely followed by the handheld Virtual Console, isn't it? Same deal with the recent Wii models and the Wii U not being able to handle GCN games. Expect a GameCube Virtual Console soon.

All the hubbub about the lack of backwards compatibility on the X-Box One? Sony tried it with the PS3? It's all to force people to rebuy games they already had. These corporate overlords don't want people being able to use the same copy of a game generation after generation. They want to repackage the same thing instead of innovating. This is a major issue.

All it would take is one operating system dedicated to keeping formats playable and simply adding new formats alongside the old ones. This is something PC developers haven't quite figured out yet, either that or they pull the same bullshit the game corporations do. I can't play my old copy of Sonic R for some reason, because my computer is advanced beyond Windows XP. That's not right. It's also talk for another post.

What I'm really getting at here is this: we, as the consumers, shouldn't have to put up with these "dedicated" machines when we could have easy and unlimited customization at our fingertips. We should no longer have to put up with having three billion devices plugged into our TVs and power strips and jacking up our electric bills. Technology is at a point where we can literally do with one device per television which is capable of handling all of the media. Hell, that device could even be the television.

Don't worry about your precious competition, though, because it's still going to exist in a number of forms. Who develops the best controller, who develops the best motion device, who develops the best games? Of course we already have an active competition between PC developers, so that part of it shouldn't be tough to imagine at all.

There's no reason for companies to insist on all of this hardware any longer. The way I see it, people need a total of about four things, three if you imagine the TV as capable of containing the necessary computer components: a home media device, a handheld device, and possibly a dedicated eInk e-reader for people, such as myself, who can't stand reading on the harsh screens of the other devices. Unless, of course, they figure out how to incorporate eInk in with the other screen styles, in which case, rock on. The only other potential device I can imagine is some equivalent to the laptop.

Consoles? DVD players? Phones? Remnants of a bygone era. Reminders that we are all under the thumbs of people trying to halt progress, to halt freedom. But more than any of that political stuff, reminders that there are people who are just trying to ruin it for everyone, and we're all just trying to have a good time.

I think it's about time we started actually doing that.

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