Infantilizing the Video Game Console

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January 18, 2013 by khrisgolder

Red RingsThere is no denying the oversimplification of handheld gaming, and the impact it had on mainstream video game devices. Smart phones have all but taken the 3DS and Vita behind the bleachers and stolen their lunch money. Believing it will go any different with the video game console is to ignore some of the most landmark products released over recent years. Products that are slowly infantilizing the video game console.

Most gamers take pride in at least one video game console brand. Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft: a variant console from at least one has captured our imaginations, turning us into blubbering diehards who would swear by its awesomeness. Unfortunately, trending hardware is lining up these major consoles for a nasty goodbye. This inevitability is highlighted by some pretty obvious events.

Devices like the SmartGlass link up console and smart phone. The concept behind the Wii-U controller is praised for being a portable, multipurpose innovation. Meanwhile, consoles have been dragging their heels into the next generation with countless (albeit convenient) updates. Not to mention the delay it takes for even the smaller Indie games to make their way to XBLIG (games that have been available on Desura or Steam for sometimes months). PC gamers laugh and shake their heads when console gamers claim how unique their experience is from gaming on a computer.

Each major console juggernaut is guilty of pandering to a broader audience in efforts to increase hardware sales. They are slowly devolving video game consoles, ostracizing hardcore gamers in the process. Coupled with the possible death of used games, it means consoles as we know are almost out. The only people in their right mind that would purchase video games for a full $60 shelf price are being gradually phased out of the intended demographic. These players would be driven straight into the arms of PC gaming sites like Steam and Desura. If that isn’t enough to handicap the console, there’s another dangerous line of competitors making their way into the mix.

Pending consoles like Ouya, GameStick, and maybe even the long awaited Steam Box are all waiting for their opportunity to strike. These microconsoles offer all the software available on a smart phone, and are specifically geared towards the type of gamers who pick up, play, and walk away. This is great for everyone but longtime console gamers who like their traditional hardware and software. These microconsoles are all a fraction of the price of the Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo consoles, which spells trouble for the big three.

Hand a 360 or PS3 controller to your grandparents and ask them if it seems too complicated. They’re more than likely going to laugh you off while they’re playing Temple Run 2 or Walking Dead on their IPad (I have cool grandparents). While these controller schemes are far from simplified, the sanctuary for hardcore gamers is shrinking with devices like the Kinect, Move, smart phones, and SmartGlass technology. Nintendo is the first to really push quality, mature software via interactive hardware to gamers. It’s all but brushed aside by many who feel there’s nothing special going on with the Wii-U.

If console gaming continues down this road, then odds are likely the next generation console will be comprised of the only systems that can focus on streaming downloadable software and really take advantage of touch screen or motion technology. Every current leading console has that ability now, but it would be likely to see a huge rise of consoles like Ouya — a system designed for streaming otherwise PC downloadable software — to strain the already declining business of Sony and Nintendo. This becoming a giant time bomb: whose bubble pops first? If Nintendo is already struggling in sales against the likes of Microsoft, and Sony doesn’t return from its losses on the Vita with the PlayStation 4, Microsoft may be the only giant left who can stay the course over the next decade (a thought many console gamers are uneasy about).

Every generation has its last minute or quick buck hardware. Some were more widely received than others. Things like Super Scope and the Playstation 4-controller port never really picked up at the time because the perception of gaming has drastically changed over the past few decades. There’s even a video game gallery in the Museum of Modern Art with a list of games that would impress modern and retro gamers alike. More people are willing to purchase a variety of games, and investors are more interested in casting a bigger net. This could leave more hardcore gamers scrambling for a less bubbly, family friendly home.

It won’t happen today and maybe even not in the next couple years, but what happens if the console as we know it dies? PC gamers will have the last laugh, and console-turned-PC gamers will pretend like they were on board for years because they played Minecraft before it ever went to the 360. There is absolutely no superiority between preference of PC or console gaming: at least right now we have the choice.

Even if a remnant of console gaming is kept alive through variants like Ouya, it will never be the same. The video game console has regressed into an adorable, defenseless baby. There’s a reason why the gaming spotlight has left the towering developer and has landed on the amassing throngs of Indie games. The money follows the fans, and it seems everyone can’t stop talking about their video game apps. Tomorrow’s options for the hardcore gamer lessen with every downloaded app as gaming takes a turn down an obvious road.

Hug your console today and thank it for all it has done (while there’s still time).

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