Console Wars

I think I’m just going to sit this one out. I’ve served my time, you know? I fought in the trenches of SNES vs. Genesis. That was probably the only time I’ve ever been on the winning side of one of these wars. My loyalty to the Nintendo Army saw me through the N64 vs. PlayStation vs. Saturn, but the end of that conflict, I was shaken to my core. My loyalty wavered and I looked for another outfit to serve in.

Eventually, I decided to take the green and black. I enlisted with the Xbox. That was 2001.

It’s been thirteen years of fighting and arguing and justifying. I’ve seen a lot of things in my time. Lost a lot of good friends. And now as the next console war begins to loom on the horizon, I have to ask myself: was it worth it? Was any of this worth it?

How much more can a man be expected to give for his consumer electronics? How many more forums and tweets and Facebook posts can a console warrior be expected to slog through before his spirit breaks and he finds himself wondering what the hell he’s doing with his life?

If I live long enough to look back on my life, this is the moment, I’ll say. It was during the opening salvo fired at E3 3013 that I finally lost the will to fight. 2013 is when I put down my pretend gun and went home.

I’m done. I’m out. You’ll all just have to carry on without me.

Okay, now that the satire is out of the way: seriously, I’m so fucking sick of “console wars.” Why is this a thing? Why is this still a thing? Maybe this is just part of a gamer’s life when you get old. Maybe every gamer reaches this moment and has this epiphany: “this is some bullshit.” Or maybe not. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I don’t like talking about this particular hobby because of the straight-up insanity that exists in the fan base. All of them. They’re all crazy. We are all crazy. It’s impossible to have a discussion anymore. Who knows, maybe it’s always been this way. Maybe I’m just finally now realizing it.

Maybe I’m just getting old.

I realize that if you’re not a gamer, nothing about this post will make sense to you. That’s okay. In fact, you’re better off not knowing.

Let’s Talk About Video Games!

I’ve been trying to put my thoughts into words regarding the Boston bombing. It seemed like something I should comment on, given how opinionated I am on things and stuff. Not writing about Boston seemed to me like a way of saying that I don’t care about what’s going on, when nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve realized, however, that I have nothing to say that hasn’t already been said by every person with a decent heart and has been said in greater eloquence than I could hope to achieve. I still believe Rousseau was right; for evidence of that claim, you need only look at any of the pictures of the first responders and those who did what they could on behalf of their fellow human.

I find that in moments of remarkable tragedy, it’s best to cleanse the mind by ranting on something completely trivial. I won’t justify my decision to talk at length about toys beyond that sentence; you’ve been warned.

Let us turn our attention to this sorry example of “game journalism.” The quotes, by the way, are made with the wink-and-nod towards the idea of there actually being any such thing as credible video game journalism in the first place.

Posted on Gaming Illustrated (the definitive source for gaming information?), Mark Adams takes us through an “editorial” about how the PlayStation 3 won the console war. Console wars, if you didn’t click the Wikipedia link, are an invention of marketing that was created in the 90’s to prey on the insecurity of young nerds. In essence, back in ye olden days, young geeks such as myself lacked the necessary capital to procure more than one video game console (the capital of which I speak is the willingness of our parents to make even one such expensive purchase, usually for Christmas). Simply put, you can’t get both video game systems available that holiday season (  or, god forbid, all three).

Thus, while a great deal of my youth was spent playing video games, an equal or greater amount of time was spent rationalizing my decision to myself and to my friends. The idea that I wasn’t playing the best video games on the best video game system was such an anathema that I literally stopped being friends with a kid over the vehemence of “Nintendo vs. Sega.” After all, what could be worse than realizing that the toy had was inferior to somebody else’s toy? I had to be secure in the knowledge that I was playing the very best games and that there were no games of redeeming quality on that other system.

Although, holy shit, you guys, did you ever play Jurassic Park for the Sega Genesis? YOU COULD PLAY AS A FUCKING VELOCIRAPTOR AND IT WAS SO COOL. That sole fact was the source of many of my darkest boyhood memories, because the Nintendo version was lame in comparison to that singular fact. Other than that, however, Mario and Donkey Kong made the Super Nintendo pretty fun and I enjoyed what I had.

Anyway, let’s go back to Mark Adams and his “PS3 RULES!!!1” article. I went back to the article just now to pull out some quotes to illustrate my next point, but literally every single sentence proves my next point. It’s almost impossible to choose. Here, look:

Quality is always far more important than quantity, and with Sony’s approach to quality software, it has left gamers with a mind-blowing choice of top-notch games that will suit everybody’s taste. Even as this generation comes to a close, Sony and developers writing for the machine are pushing out titles that are proving that there is still plenty of life left in the system.

Does that actually sound like something written by a real person? Note that I am defining a real person as “one whose paychecks are not signed by Sony Corp.”

Another quote:

Also on a cost versus cost basis of each console, many people see Sony’s machine as the perfect choice because of its huge hard-drive, great game library, free internet access and so much more. In some territories there are also various coloured consoles available, which of course attract more customers.

Some territories? Who uses language like this other than opinionated jerks like myself with WordPress blogs? I doubt most actual people are aware of such nebulous concepts as “territories” when it comes to consumer electronics. Certainly, there’s a vague understanding that a video game bought in Japan probably won’t play on a system purchased in the United States, but you’re never going to hear discussion about “territories” or the performance of NTSC compared to PAL.

Last quote, before I get in trouble for reproducing the entire article:

Thankfully, Sony did not mess too much with the controller either. The PS3 Dualshock controller still remains a favorite with gamers, with its perfectly formed shape to enable hours of endless gameplay.

This brings me to the crux of my argument. How is it that we are living in a world where this obvious corporate press release is being presented as a fair editorial review of a consumer electronic? This isn’t the kind of language that exists in the real world. You’re only going to encounter it if you’re unlucky enough to work in Marketing or if you’re sitting in the board room deciding how best to leverage the message of robust brand identity. Or if you’re reading Dilbert in the Funnies section. Does anybody still read Dilbert? (I won’t even ask about the newspaper, I already know the answer).

Okay, I lied. One more quote:

There are territories where the PlayStation 3 is not doing as well as the Xbox 360. However, even in these areas the PS3 is selling extremely well. Around the World, the PlayStation brand is as popular as it has ever been, and the success of the PlayStation 3 has shown that you just cannot keep a good console down if the games are there that players want to play.

There’s that strange reference to “territories” again. One other note: I don’t care if Games Illustrated is an actual video game blog or a Sony puppet, please do not  support the erosion of persuasive writing by paying people to write sentences like “there are territories where it is not doing well. However, even in these areas it is doing extremely well.” My god, man, you’re supposed to be a professional. A professional what, I’m not quite certain, but a professional nonetheless. Why are we seeing sentence structure that would lose points on a freshman composition assignment?

That brings us to the end of the article and the comments section which is filled with the typical mind-numbing baying of hungry young pups. Peruse that section at your own risk.

There are two things that make this whole thing kind of pathetic. The first is the obvious corporate shill job that’s being passed off as “journalism.” I think I’ve already made my case on that point. The second issue, however, is the one I alluded to above in regards to the “console war.” How is this is still a thing? How is it that there is still a perception of “brand loyalty” and “sides in a war” over toys that are all being produced by massive, multinational corporations? It’s completely ridiculous to turn console sales into some kind of competition with “winners” and “losers” and “my side, your side” bullshit. You know what matters to the companies? Profit margin. Bottom line. CASH MONEY. Certainly, selling more things than your major competitor who is also selling similar things is important, but to call it a war? Let’s try to keep it in perspective here.

Back in the day, I remember being very concerned about proving that the SNES was better than the Sega Genesis. This is because at the time, I was eight. Now that I’m just a little bit older, the entire thing is so very silly. I’ll buy as many or as few of the goddamn toys as I so desire. I didn’t get a PS3 this time around not because of some brand loyalty to the Xbox, but because the goddamn thing was 600 dollars at the time and that’s ridiculous. Whatever. At this point, I’m going to rationalize my decision not by whether or not my toy is as cool as somebody else’s toy, but “was this a good purchase for me” and “can I still afford my rent?”

I would say that this is the mark of adulthood, except that I know people for whom the value and newness of their car vs. the cars of other people is of the utmost concern, so maybe never mind.

It’s like watching the really hardcore sports fanatics talk about “them and us” when it comes to their hated and beloved teams respectively. The only thing that makes sports fans even remotely understandable is that at least the team you profess to love is based in your home city or state. You’d want them to do well on behalf of your home, right?

Unless we’re talking about Yankees fans who live in Arizona, or whatever. Then I’m back to having no idea.

Keeping It All In Perspective

So it seems like North Korea has been in the news a lot lately. Well, actually, there’s no ‘seems’ about it; you can’t open a blog or RSS feed without reading a terrifying headline about the impending nuclear apocalypse. I suppose that by writing this post, I’ll be including myself in such august company. Oops.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, in my reading, I tend to fixate on a subject for a while before moving on to the next one. While I don’t think that this makes me an expert on the Korean geopolitical situation, I do believe I’ve read enough about the topic to have something above a passing familiarity with North Korea and the developing situation over there. And in my (admittedly amateur) opinion, I think that it’s important to keep a few things in mind while the Google News headline is PENTAGON SAYS NUCLEAR MISSILE IN REACH FOR NORTH KOREA.

Seems pretty scary, right? North Korea is undeniably crazy, based on past experience such as its scientific discovery of the unicorn and the fact that it insists on being called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, despite the fact that such a name is both embarrassingly redundant (how many Democratic Republics belong to somebody other than the people?) and also wrong (how many Democratic Republics are actually totalitarian dictatorships?)

It seems that people like to overstate the military danger that North Korea possesses. That’s not to say that North Korea can’t be dangerous, just that it’s substantially less dangerous towards those of us living in the Unite States since we’re separated by that negligible body of water known as the entire Pacific Ocean.

If North Korea has developed a nuclear device capable of fitting onto a ballistic missile, that’s very bad news for South Korea, Japan, Australia, and every other US friendly nation. That is very bad news, indeed, and if things fall apart, a whole lot of people could be killed.

Keep in mind, however, that there is no scenario in which North Korea can win other than by doing what it’s always done, which is nothing. Many of their people are still starving to death. All China has to do is say “yeah, we’re done,” turn off the flow of resources that it’s been supplying, and North Korea collapses. They can’t go it alone and if they ever unleash a nuclear weapon, you can be they’ll be completely alone. It’s your basic WarGames scenario.

So while the headlines keep rolling out about the growing nuclear threat that is North Korea, keep in mind that while North Korea has the “largest military on earth with 9,495,000 active members,” it is also one of the most poorly equipped armies in the world. It’s an army that has been crippled by its own economic weakness. Most of its equipment dates back to the Cold War or earlier. Its military budget is $8 billion dollars. South Korea’s military budget is almost twice that.

It sounds like a lot to read that North Korea boasts “the largest submarine fleet in the world.” It’s less impressive when you consider that most of these submarines were acquired as scrap from Russia. What I’m trying to say is that history is filled with examples where having more guys doesn’t mean anything when the enemy has better weapons. Every single country North Korea has a grudge against (pretty much everyone) has better weapons.

I’m not saying that we should ignore North Korea; frankly, I consider it to be one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. However, that concern doesn’t lend itself to any real feelings of fear on my part. I think there’s rather too much fear going around these days and it’s helpful to be reminded that many, if not most, of the things we fear will never actually come to pass.