It’s true what they say. You never forget your first.
I meant first video game. Get your minds out of the gutter, people.
Let me begin by defining what being a gamer means, to me: someone who is deeply passionate and who truly enjoys a video game or franchise of games, and from that game expands their knowledge and experience into other games and other platforms. You’re a gamer if you fall in love with a video game, then try another, and another and another and another. You find a friend or two with whom you play, and it becomes a social experience as well as a hobby.
You don’t have to attend conventions and rant about games and review things with words like “disappointed” or “overhyped” to be a gamer. You just have to game.
As such, I’m a gamer. And there is absolutely no question where I began: on the original Microsoft XBOX, on a great game from a little studio that could.
Halo: Combat Evolved.
When I started playing Halo, I fell for it hard. It wasn’t just the gameplay and what Bungie refers to as “the 30 seconds of nonstop fun” that is at the core of all of their games: their challenge is finding a way to reintroduce that 30 seconds constantly.
What I fell in love with was the cinematic experience and the utterly unexpected breadth and complexity of the story. I wasn’t just sitting on my couch holding a controller and pushing buttons; I was in the story. I was fighting for my life.
The story wasn’t just vibrant; it was alive.
And because I was so in love with Halo, I was by extension committed to Microsoft’s Xbox because Halo was an Xbox exclusive.
A bit of history: console releases are often categorized into “generations.” A generation is simply a group of consoles designed to compete against one another, usually because they’re released within a two or three year span of one another and then continue to be produced until they’re replaced and then discontinued.
The reason this is all pertinent now is because Generation 8 is about to really get rolling, with Nintendo’s Wii-U already released and both Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One slated for release later in 2013.
However, for console lovers like me, the writing’s on the wall: the console as a concept is dying. With the versatility of PCs, plus the fact that they’re built to be on the Internet anyway, plus the fact that you can write programs to emulate games on your computer, gamers are migrating en masse away from consoles anyway.
Console gaming has already peaked if you’re going by sales figures: as Gen 8 gets underway, the sales record remains the 150 million units sold by the PlayStation 2—a Generation Six console. In Gen 7, the Wii nearly hit 100 million units.
Naturally, they’re going down swinging. Consoles just can’t be game machines anymore; these aren’t your father’s video games.
The three heavyweights (may Sega’s consoles rest in peace) have motion-sensor capability: Nintendo built the Wii around the Wii Remote, then Sony introduced the PlayStation Move and Microsoft entered the fray with the Kinect.
They all have online capability: Microsoft first offered Xbox Live for its original Xbox, then redesigned and relaunched it for the Xbox 360. Sony created the PlayStation Network to compete with Xbox Live, then Nintendo finally got into it six years later with Nintendo Network.
But it won’t be enough to turn the tide. You can see that in how far the three consoles are diverging in purpose: it’s just not enough to be a great gaming platform anymore. You need to somehow beat out a naturally superior product.
And all of this saddens me. The further you get from consoles, the more ludicrous features you add like “always online” or “Blu-Ray playback” or what have you, the further you get from the core of what made them so special.
Gaming consoles are less and less about games, in an attempt to keep up with a public that wants more features than they could possibly imagine out of every device they touch.
I get it. You have to follow the money.
I’ll buy the Xbox One or the PS4. I’ll grumble about its features but quietly be staggered by the graphics quality, by the intuitive responsiveness. I’ll buy Bungie’s next game, and the next, and the next. It’s what I do. I am a gamer.
And Microsoft and Sony and Nintendo know this. They don't have to cater to gamers. We’ll buy their products anyway, because that’s who we are.
But on the eve of Generation 8, a generation that may either be the last of its kind or that will change consoles forever, this is my tribute to the old.
I sat down yesterday and plugged my original Xbox back into my TV. I popped Halo 2 into the disc tray, plugged in my wired controller (they really don’t make those anymore), and played through a couple of levels.
And I had a smile on my face the entire time.
The console is adapting, forced to survive in a world that demands so much.
To Microsoft, to Sony, to Nintendo: you are doing what you must. Money makes the world go ‘round. I understand.
But no matter what comes next, thank you for what you did before. Thank you for building worlds in which we could lose ourselves, worlds where everything made sense and worries did not exist.
So here’s to the old consoles. Here’s to the machines that could only play games.
Time marches on and waits for no man and all that, but from me and so many other gamers whose childhoods you defined, whose loneliness you banished, whose imaginations you ignited, thank you.
And whether you cater to us or the general public, we’ll be there. Because no matter how much we rant and complain and generally whine, inside of us there’s that little kid. That nine or ten year old who would run home from school, sit down and plays Dragon Ball Z: Budokai or Halo 2 or Super Smash Brothers Melee for hours on end.
And we’ll remember how much those games meant to that kid. And we’ll buy them, and we’ll play them.
And we’ll be there because gaming isn’t a hobby or a way of passing time. For the real gamers, it’s a way of life.