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Playing With Power

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Gamers, as in videogamers not checker-players, love to label things. Human beings love to label things in general but gamers, in particular, seem to gravitate to a necessity to label everything and, more importantly, compartmentalize it and organize it in a way of “good” and “bad” or “better” and “worse.” A “hardcore” gamer is “good” (for some reason) and a “casual” is bad. “32 Bits” is better than “16 Bits” and so on. It’s a way to place value on something and gamers put value in a lot of things, namely brands and franchises and meaningless in-game achievements that somehow say they’re awesome or something.

A funny thing occurred to me, though: I don’t care. I really, really, really don’t care.

Not to sound like your uncle who’s always telling stories at Thanksgiving, but I’ve been around, man. I’ve seen things. Specifically, I’ve seen a recurring cycle of the past few decades in gaming and, boy, does it not look to be stopping anytime soon. As much as the videogame industry has grown, its community and what they put as important has stagnated, if not outright regressed.

Just briefly, going back to the beginnings of “my console is better than yours,” started when Sega entered the fold in the late 1980s with the Genesis. Then it was Sega vs. Nintendo, from there it went to Nintendo vs. Sony, from there Sony vs. Microsoft and, I presume, at some point in the future it will be Microsoft vs. Apple and the PC vs Mac argument can come full-circle.

Then in a few generations, all that spec-arguing won't matter because it's never the hardware that matters in the end or that creates your memories and fondness, it's the software. Genesis? Atari? NES? You just want the games, don't you? Looking back, aren't ads and arguments like this just silly?

Above: Then in a few generations, all that spec-arguing won’t matter because it’s never the hardware that matters in the end or that creates your memories and fondness, it’s the software. Genesis? Atari? NES? You just want the games, don’t you? Looking back, aren’t ads and arguments like this just silly?

Why is it after decades of gaming have gamers not recognized that a more powerful console doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better console? You think it would be obvious: you can trace gaming back and see it, going back to the “Bit” days. Remember those? Suddenly “bit” was a terminology to put some sort of value on “power,” just as “resolution” and “frames per second” are now. These things are determined as a value to help label what is good and what is bad. In reality, it just proves what gaming is and has been all along: a product to buy and nothing more. All that talk about games as art or to be something meaningful beyond numbers and ones and zeroes? It doesn’t matter if the specs aren’t up to expectations on the brand you’ve put your stake in.

At the heart of it, I feel that a good chunk of gamers just haven’t grown out of that playground mindset they grew up with and the new generation of gamers are just falling in line of that same old, tired cycle. Even in other aspects of their lives, most older gamers don’t sit there and berate each other over petty things, but the minute you put a “brand” on something is the minute everyone acts like they’re teenagers all over again. This scenario, for example:


“Billy has the new Xbox/Genesis/Playstation!” exclaims Mikey. “I want one!”

“No,” says mom. “Shut up and eat your jello.”

“But mom!”

“Quiet down or you’re going in the crate again!”

“Fine, then that thing he owns is horrible,” says Mikey, as he does his best to make the other thing appear bad to make his own appear better.

Now here it is today as an adult:

“Man, Bill has that new console thing. I want one!” exclaims Michael.

“No,” says your online bank account. “Shut up and pay your bills and lean how to budget you lazy ass.”

“Fine, then that thing he owns is horrible, my choice is far superior and I hate his whole family,” says Michael, as he does his best to make the other thing appear bad to make his own appear better to make up for his insecurities.

This just shows that videogames are still seen as “products.” Not just by media and moguls and the marketers pumping your eyes and ears full of “you have to fuckin’ own this!,” but actually by the gaming community itself. Suddenly the specs and “buzzwords” become priority, whereas the idea of simple “entertainment” (as in just sitting down and having fun), much less having games seen as “art,” becomes an afterthought. That’s not to say there aren’t “better” versions of one game out there, but the hill many have decided to die on is in which version they actually want to buy, not whether or not the game is good to begin with.

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Above: It seems the same people that put so much value on tech specs and power are the same ones that demand games be seen as art. They fail to realize they’re hurting the push of games as art when all you tweet and write and blog and make videos about are the specification of technology. The tech isn’t what’s “artistic.”

In all the years I’ve been a gamer, I’ve heard it: This is more powerful than that, this has more abilities and processing and bits and thingamagigs…and then the years go by and people look back and they say the same thing: wow…all that shit we argued about really didn’t matter, did it?

It didn’t matter because at the end of the day it’s all about the games, gamers have a bad habit of reflecting on the past and remembering fondly yet not looking ahead of them. Do you care which was better in 94 or 97 or 2002 today? At the time you did, but then you moved past it, didn’t you? Then you realize that all you want is all those old consoles (and a CRT) back just to play those games again. At the end of the day, that is all that matters, and I think we’d be wise if we just take a breathe and realize that it will, after this generation, again not matter once more. Arguments of resolutions and frame rates on one over the other and even “console exclusives” just mean so little to me.

For me, I don’t want to waste my time on something I know won’t matter – more specifically because I’ve already been through it numerous times and have seen how much it really doesn’t matter. I’m tired, weary and don’t have the energy to even bother. I just look at what I want to play and I pay it and as the years go by, you remember the games far more than what system they were even on. In the moment, everyone thinks “console wars” is somehow important and has value because it’s a reflection of themselves in a way, kind of like how a person might buy a Mazerati over a Mercedes. That moment is well passed for me. What’s strange is that it’s not for everyone of my gaming generation.

By logic, if you’re a gamer, you should only be excited about the games, no? Why put so much stake in a console or worry about which might looks better than the other? Are we that obsessive about specs and consoles?

Above: By logic, if you’re a gamer, you should only be excited about the games, no? Why put so much stake in a console or worry about which might looks better than the other? Are we that obsessive about specs and consoles?

It’s understandable: for some, they have only one choice and they want it to be the right one and there’s money involved and in the moment, you have to make decisions. But there is no “right” one here. There’s only good games and even there you’re choosing which games you want to play, not how less or more powerful a console is, and all the dick-measuring and brand-bashing in the world won’t matter or change a thing. If anything, it shows how far the gaming world and community still needs to grow and mature.

I still hear people my age debate all this as though they’re on the playground still exclaiming how blast processing on the Sega Genesis is the reason why it’s superior.  I’m talking about 30 somethings with careers and jobs and families who like to play games yet the minute someone starts to bring up “so which is better?” is the minute all Hell seems to break loose and they regress to age 14.

How soon we forget. We look back at the console wars in the past as this funny little thing that, in the end, really didn’t matter and this one isn’t going to matter either – all the comments on blogs and youtube or message forum debates amount to absolutely nothing. We kind of laugh at it because it was so absurd, yet then turn right around and start doing it again not realizing that in another ten or so years we’ll look back and think the exact same thing about today.

As sad as it is, the "entitled gamer" isn't anything new to the gaming industry. I guess I assumed people would grow out of it, alas it's a voice that is as loud as ever thanks to the internet. I remember when nobody wanted to be Lucas from The Wizard, not it seems everyone is and ostrocizing anyone who either says something or doesn't say enough...not about games, but about "specs" on a console.

Above: The “entitled gamer” isn’t anything new to the gaming industry. I guess I assumed people would grow out of it, alas it’s a voice that is as loud as ever thanks to the internet.

I’m hoping that it’s just a vocal minority and that most out there aren’t that way. It’s hard to tell on the internet when every message board/meme/tweet is about obsessing over this type of stuff and getting angry at others for not addressing it correctly or enough or at all regarding the technical aspects of a console that nobody even owns yet. Often times it makes a minor problem and minor demographic of people seem far larger than it actually is. I’d like to think most are nice people who just want to play fun games – console power be damned.

So I say this, whether it be a minority or a majority of gamers: get over it. You aren’t a slave to a brand. You’re a gamer: one who plays videogames. Follow that path, you’ll be happier for it. Otherwise, you’ll just look back again in a few more years or a generation next and laugh at how ridiculous all the “console wars” or “brand wars” were.


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