“The world has moved on,' we say... we've always said. But it's moving on faster now. Something has happened to time.”― Stephen King,
Okay, so this one might get a little nerdy, friends, so buckle up.
We're going to flash back a few years ago, to when Microsoft was about to unveil their new gaming console. It was rumored to be called Xbox 720, the double of the 360, get it? I'm an Xbox guy, given that Halo was the first version of a console FPS that I loved, and I think their controllers are superior to those of the Playstation, and so I was very excited to see the unveiling of a new console. Leading up to this, nerds everywhere were speculating and rumoring, and 'it is expected'-ing, and it became pretty clear to those of us that were paying close attention that it would likely be a large improvement hardware-wise, that there would finally be an integrated Blu-Ray player, since the other format, HD DVD, fizzled out.. Nerd Stuff. You get the idea, right? There was a lot of excitement and speculation, but there was some trepidation as well; rumors were out there that games would be locked to the console and would be unable to be traded or rented or purchased used, and worse than that, that there would be an online requirement, that the machine wouldn't even function without an internet connection, which would mean that if you were out in the sticks and couldn't get internet, or your connection was terribly painfully slow or you had to get it via satellite through HughesNet or whatever, you were effectively screwed.
So after a while of all this preemptive speculation, the event arrived. I was at work, but I had a live stream in a little window in the corner so I got to witness the whole thing live.
It was a mess.
They unveiled a machine that afternoon. However, the new Xbox wasn't called the 720 at all. It would be called Xbox One, and it was supposed to become the center of your home entertainment, which meant that it integrated your cable and internet in one thing, and look at all the television entertainment options that you have now, and look, you can record television and fast forward television and pause television, and the television now has a television that watches television and oh yeah it also requires an always on internet connection and also games are locked to your console so you can forget about renting before you buy or buying used games or lending or trading games with your friends, But oh wow can you believe how great this thing is, look how cool it makes your television viewing experience now and you can go ahead and just toss out all those old boxes that are clogging up your entertainment center, that you already own... what's that? Oh sure it plays games too. Good ones, apparently, I don't know to much about that, but holy cow, let's talk about movies, because you can stream them right on the console...
Gamer nerds like myself were confused and angry. What's all this nonsense about TV? I have a TV already and a cable box, and a DVR, and I don't give a crap about that. Is this thing a gaming machine or isn't it? And this integrated Kinect? Do I really want a live, always on, internet connected camera in my living room at all times? And what if I don't want to play online? What if online is the worst, and getting away from other people is one of the primary reasons to play games in the first place, and goddamnit I like to rent games before I drop fifty or sixty bucks on them to make sure they don't suck, and I have a friend that is in Iraq right now and Xbox is how he unwinds and he doesn't have internet at all... G
oddamnit Microsoft why do you hate the troops?
And I have to admit, I was right there with them. I loved my Xbox 360, even though I got the red ring of death (twice!) and when it came time to present the new machine, all they talked about was TV! It was, ostensibly, a game machine; what was all this entertainment hub nonsense?
So this was the launch, and the only people paying close attention were nerds like me, and there was a ton of nerdy pushback. Playstation was also launching their next gen console at the exact same time, that didn't have any of the unpopular qualities that the Xbox One had; they actually trolled Xbox about this in a video where they say here is how game sharing works on the PS4, and the CEO of Sony Entertainment says hey can I borrow that game, and this other guy says sure and hands it over and then they both stand there grinning at the camera because they knew that Microsoft had shit the bed on this one, and this flubbed launch presentation almost certainly allowed the PS4 to get out to a huge initial sales lead.
They listened to the outrage, and they removed a lot of the connectivity that the original launch had, and they addressed the game lock thing, and so ultimately what we got was a console that was pretty much a juiced up version of the 360, and everyone settled in. This vocal and public outcry about a machine that nobody had even tried, had never even seen, made Microsoft, one of the largest, richest and most powerful companies in the world, back down and deliver what the nerds, myself included, said they wanted, which was basically "the 360, but, like, more powerful and stuff. Specs, and GPU and frames per second hur hur hur."
And we got what we wanted.
We know the machine that we got, which is sitting in my living room right now.
But what I can't help wondering about is, what if we, in our reactionary outrage, robbed ourselves of a truly different kind of machine? We know what we got, which, in all honesty, is a damn fine machine and it is comfortable and familiar and unchallenging, but what about the machine that we didn't get? What if it was something interesting and original that actually pushed the industry forward? What if the original machine took some risks like Nintendo did with the Wii and the Switch, and changed how we interact with our entertainment, and all the stuff we complained about, the physical discs, and the game sharing and the always on internet and the integrated Kinect and all that stuff wasn't that big a deal at all. Currently my user experience doesn't look that different from what they were talking about; I already do all that stuff. My machine is always online, and I don't want physical discs, they clog up bookshelves and I have to get up and go find them. I prefer my digital copies that I can just load up and go for it, and I can delete them if they are taking up too much space or they suck or whatever. I do buy used games, and I still occasionally rent them from my local video store, but otherwise I am doing pretty much exactly what they were going to require anyway.
What if we cheated ourselves out of a truly awesome gaming machine just because we lack a bit of patience, a bit of okay I'll just wait and see how this turns out? What if the original version of the Xbox One was exactly the console we had been waiting for but we didn't even know it, and now we will never know.
So, I'm an Xbox guy still; I have in my house at this very moment the original Xbox, the 360, and the One. I still think the controller is superior and I still love Halo, (though Borderlands 2 is, and will always be, my main squeeze). But I haven't rushed out to get an Xbox One X, the juiced up model of the One, because while it does have better specs and it has 4k fidelity and on and on and on, I don't see the point of dropping five bills to get more of the same thing, just faster.
And maybe we dodged a bullet here; maybe the original Xbox One was going to be a terrible piece of crap that nobody wanted. Maybe Microsoft didn't really understand what it was that made the 360 great, what people wanted from a console in the first place. It might have sucked.
Maybe, but it could have been great too, and the truth of the matter is, the world has moved on since then, and we we will never have a chance to find out.
This is a little esoteric I know, but I am laying the groundwork for a larger point that I am trying to make here, so please stick around. This is actually the first part of a much larger series of things I have been thinking about and will ultimately address Star Wars and aging and poisonous nostalgia.
If you want to see a supercut of the Xbox One Launch in three minutes it's here: https://youtu.be/KbWgUO-Rqcw
If you like this stuff but wish it was much shorter and had a bunch of dumb jokes instead of, well much longer dumb jokes, you can find me on Twitter at @RDPullins. I'm still off of Facebook, except to post these links, so if you have been sending me messages, I haven't seen them. Email me if you wanna; all I get in my inbox are meeting notes from the local DSA so I'll get you back quick: dissent.within at gmail.com Reach out to me here; comment and argue with me if you feel your nerdy hackles rising: "The PS4 controller has six axis haptic feedback! How could you ever presume that the X-Bone controller is better, you jackass!" Oh and PC gamers are nerds to other nerds.
Come at me, dorks. Everyone knows your weakness is sunlight and vegetables. Peace y'all.