When the long history of video game console cycles is written, this generation should be counted among the most important to the industry. I realize there is great affection for days of old and memories of the NES, SNES, PS2 and even that long-toothed great-grandfather, now long laid to rest, the 2600. But this generation, the one that began with the Xbox 360 and which is already six years gone with no end in sight, has been a stealthy cavalcade of advancement, most of which took place in ways I had never expected.
I remember what seems like not so long ago being amazed that an arcade game like Super Mario Bros. could be recreated in a home experience. Imagine the quarters I would save! As a child that grew up on games where combat(!) between a red square and a blue square was at the apex of electronic action, the watchword for three decades was graphics. Advancement was easy to measure in wo to the power of x bit processing.
Frankly it got to the point where it felt like the only upgrade to be seriously considered in any generational advance was strictly from the perspective of raw power. As I look back over the last half decade, one in which graphical advancement has if not stagnated, at least become secondary, I see now that there is and has long been so much that can be made better, and it doesn’t necessarily require new hardware to accomplish.
Just a great generation of highly adaptable machines.
Five years ago, it seemed laughable, dare I say folly, to bastardize console machines into central pieces of home entertainment. Now, my Xbox 360 is a cornerstone of media consumption on my television. Games, while a major component of what I do with the machine are not the alpha-and-omega of my console experience. I value my 360 as much as a Netflix delivery, music player and streaming video system as I do a place to play Halo. Once Hulu or some similar service locks in, I can all too easily imagine a world where I get rid of satellite television and depend on that magic white box for all my mindless endorphin firing digitainment.
I mention the 360 specifically because it is my living room platform of choice, but the reality is that the same kinds of things can be said just as easily of the PlayStation 3. As a complete media experience, both consoles have reached the unimaginable capacity to be what seemed ridiculous at launch.
I’m not necessarily arguing that everyone, particularly casual users, have unlocked the full potential of their Modern Warfare 2 boxes. But each day it seems more and more reasonable to expect that they might, because the interface, the capabilities, the integration becomes more and more seamless with each pass.
It might be enough to shine the spotlight on media integration and marvel at how far we’ve advanced, but this generation has also changed the way we play games like never before. Achievements, seamless integration of multiplayer, online co-operative gaming, sophisticated matchmaking and friend management capacity, high-definition, motion controls, and digital downloads are just the tip of the iceberg.
The Wii alone was a revolution (sic) in how gamers and games interfaced. Many words have been penned to support that statement. If you still need convincing on that point, then there’s probably not much I can say to change your mind.
Finally, and perhaps of greatest importance, this console generation has driven down the cost of gaming like none before it. I realize this may seem a controversial statement, particularly to those who opted out of this generation precisely because it seemed more expensive, and I’m not arguing that the barrier to entry was insignificant. However, games have long bucked inflation trends and in a world where we line up to pay $400 for a phone I remain unconvinced that the big three got disproportionately greedy.
When you dig in, though, and discover the vast wealth of high quality games at or under the $15 price point on every system, the argument that this console generation is anything but a steal melts. It would be one thing if PSN, XBLA and WiiWare games were throwaway diversions from second rate development houses, but the reality is that some of the best games I play in any given week cost less than an entree at Chilis.
Not only do these platforms broaden the diversity of games that are at our disposal, but they do so at manageable costs.
In the end, I have a sweet place of affection for each of the three systems, and I’m in no hurry to see this wildly successful generation enter its twilight. As long as the platforms continue to support the creativity and capacity for change that defines the industry, I’m not looking for the next level of graphics rendering capability that too long was the only advancement companies seemed interested in pursuing.