I turn on my Xbox 360, and on the top of my entertainment center a cylon’s red-eye device sparks to life, raises it’s hammerhead shark gaze to the room and considers its surroundings. It’s almost a hopeful gaze I sense through its binocular vision as the system rolls through its start-up procedure, but it is only setting itself up for disappointment, because today is not a Kinect kind of day for me.
Just like yesterday. And the day before, and most of the days before that.
It seems kind of long ago now that I was all enthusiasm and hopeful hyperbole about Microsoft’s arguably revolutionary device. I never imagined that I would be playing every game to come down the pipe with grand, often exhausting gestures, but even though the initial offering of games tended toward the anemic side, I felt like I could sense the breadth of possibilities that creative game developers could explore. And, there was just no arguing that occasionally kicking imaginary soccer balls or throwing air javelins was anything but energetic fun.
That was something like six months ago, and the all seeing eye above my TV is just another forgotten peripheral that I probably spent too much money on, and I’m increasingly concerned that there will never be the “killer app” that finally makes the Kinect anything more than a curiosity of modern technology and a plaything for the high-functioning tinkerer.
And so, it is becoming an emblem for its generation of short-term, high-concept gaming gadgetry.
I’m beginning to think there’s another bubble we need to begin talking about and of which we need to see the inevitable burst: the gimmicky hardware bubble. It feels to me like at some point about a decade ago we moved from an age of aggressive upgrades in sheer processing power to an era where new experiences were delivered through improvements to interface and input. The results of this era include the DS, the 3DS, plastic instruments, traditional 3D gaming, the Kinect, the Wii-mote, the iPhone, the Move, and more. Even the way we integrate media and social experiences through game communities are tangentially related to the changing philosophies of this grand new age in technology.
It’s been an era not of how fast our games play, but of how many different ways we can experience a game, and as a result it’s little surprise that PCs and games systems that should be lumbering dinosaurs remain largely functional and satisfying delivery systems for most current games. That’s good, it makes gaming as a whole more accessible and less the play area of only people with large piles of discretionary cash or very little money sense.
But I feel like we’re on the brink of the next philosophical shift. With an underperforming 3DS, the crash of the music game genre and lackluster support for devices like the Kinect, I can’t help but feel like we as consumers are reaching critical mass on hardware add-ons. I have a closet full of clunky peripherals to support one game, and I can tell you that while I’ve loved my Rock Band life entirely so far, it’s a road I never want to go down again.
If anything, I am looking to condense and reduce. Give me the one-console future that I know is never going to happen, make it deliver everything (movies, television, on-demand, social media, games, internet), make it operate from the cloud, make it secure and make it portable. Give me a device the size of a current tablet that I can hot swap into any environment, where I can as easily play Gears of War 5 in the airport as I can on a 60” Natural Vision 3D monitor. Make it so that I can consistently watch high-definition streaming episodes of my favorite show in the passenger seat of my hover car, even if I’m in the middle of virtually nowhere. And, if you want to provide a new experience for your game, make sure it’s something that can happen within the software—even if I have to pay a premium—and not require me to run around attaching new devices.
These are, perhaps, unreasonable expectations for the future of technology, but I also recall that it wasn’t so long ago the people mocked openly the idea that even ISDN internet speeds would be common in homes. I don’t feel like the newest smart phones and tablets are anything but a first glance at this kind of future.
I for one am ready to let the age of boxes, wires and sad, red eyes on top of the entertainment center come to a final and irrevocable close.