Slouching Toward the Next Generation: the Xbox One gets to know you

, | Features

Late Thursday night a fleet of black and green armored cars branded with the words “Xbox One” set upon Times Square; LaFerrari super cars emitting a green neon glow sped up and down the streets of Manhattan; and hordes of people dressed as zombies shambled across the Brooklyn Bridge. Forty miles away I was tucked in bed asleep as my preorder wended its way from an Amazon warehouse to my door.

I approached the launch of the Playstation 4, my first day one console, like a kid. I was filled with excitement and anticipation for my new toy. The letdown I had was probably inevitable. I’m not ten years old anymore. So with the imminent arrival of the Xbox One, my second day one console, I tempered my expectations. I’d try and come at this one like a reasonable adult.

After the jump, a Panopitcon in every living room.

In the late 18th century a man named Jeremy Bentham, a good ole’ English chap, came up with the idea for a new type of institution. He called it the Panopticon: the root pan meaning all, opticon to observe. Bentham envisioned a circular building with a watchtower in the middle. He thought any institution could use the concept, from hospitals to schools to sanitariums. But he knew the idea was best suited for a prison. The idea was to keep the inmates from knowing when they were being watched while preserving the idea that they could be observed at all times. He thought his Panopticon would exert a newfound hold over the minds of those observed. They would be compelled by the power of constant observation to modify their own behavior.

The Xbox One “day one edition” comes in a thick black box shaped like a cube. The first thing you see when you open the box is the new Kinect: an elongated rectangular brick with a prominent mechanical eye to one side.

After I take everything out of the box — Kinect, power brick, cables, controller, headset, and console — I pick up the Kinect and turn it over in my hands. The Kinect is big, it has a fan in the back, and a thick cable coming out of it. I take it downstairs to show my wife.

“What does this look like to you?” I ask her. Without missing a beat: “It looks like HAL. You sure you want to hook that thing up?”

The Xbox One is a big sucker, double the size of my cable box. It has that solid boxy feel of an old VCR or stereo receiver. It’s a nice looking machine; one side is glossy black while the other is matte made up of diagonal vents. I can see my face in the glossy side of the box.

Prior to the Xbox One, my TV’s three HDMI ports were taken up by my cable box, Playstation 4, and Xbox 360. I had to closet my Wii U to make space for the Playstation 4 and I wasn’t looking forward to shutting away my 360. Fortunately the Xbox One has two HDMI ports, input and output, so I plug my cable box in and leave the 360 in place.

It’s late evening by the time I hook everything up and my office is dark. As the system powers on, my TV screen turns a bright green, with the Xbox logo front and center. After a few minutes the screen goes black. There is no light in my room save three white glowing Xbox symbols: one on my controller, Kinect, and console. Then three lights shaped like dashes appear glowing red from the center of the Kinect.

A sinister black screen appears with bold white text “Hi,” a picture of the Xbox One is looking at me, the disc slot reminiscent of a robotic visor.

“Where do you live?” I enter my time zone.

“Which one is yours?” I pick my router from a list on screen and enter the network password.

“You’re connected, it’s time to update.”

The update is 507 MB. It takes five minutes to download, another five minutes to install, with five more minutes spent looking at the green Xbox screen. Everything goes black and a picture of the Kinect appears, camera eye prominent, accompanied by bold white text: “Set up sensor?”

What happens next so freaks me out I call for my wife. On the right hand side of my television there is a washed out black and white video feed of my office. There I am sitting on my couch. My face is a creepy grey, my eyes sockets dark. There is a box with a green arrow above my head, inside the box is a blank portrait with the word “guest.” It looks like a shot from Paranormal Activity.

“Does Kinect see you?”

My wife walks in and she appears on screen with a second green arrow box over her head. My wife: “Ewwwww, I don’t like this,” she walks out of the room. My dog Wookie comes in and jumps on my lap. The Kinect ignores him. No green arrows, no identification. Wookie stares into the camera eye quizzically, then trots out of the room. I wonder if he can sense an evil in this thing.

The next step is an audio check. A picture of the Kinect again appears on screen. It looks like a sleeker Johnny Five from Short Circuit: the camera one eye the glowing Xbox symbol the other, with a slit down the middle for a mouth.


“Stay as quiet as possible. Kinect is trying to hear you.”

Audio check complete I sign into Xbox live where more bold white text awaits: “Our lawyers say…” There are two big boxes with check marks inside. One says “send me emails with Microsoft Promotions;” the other “enhance my online experience by letting Microsoft advertising use my account information.” It appears you have to agree to these two things before moving forward but I know better. I promptly uncheck both boxes.

“Privacy is your control:” the screen is filled with a wall of white text forming the default privacy settings. By default everyone can see everything you do (games, TV, clips, friends, pictures, videos, profile, etc.) and Microsoft can use everything you do for advertising purposes, including whatever your exercise profile is. You cannot change the privacy settings from this screen. You must agree to move forward.

After picking my favorite color Kinect signs me into the system by reading my face. That creepy black and white video of my room shows up again. I’m sitting there on the couch, the green arrow box over my head. Instead of the word “guest” it now has my gamertag “Scott Dobros.”

“Hi Scott.”

After I fast forward through an advertisement for the system I finally make it to the main interface. It is straightforward if a bit cluttered. I’m immediately prompted to set up “live TV.” I enter my zip code, cable provider, and the make of my cable box: “We know how to talk to your TV.” Next I’m offered to “make TV on Xbox One better! We can track the shows you watch to provide better TV show and movie recommendations.” No thanks.

It took me over an hour from when I opened the box to when I was finally ready to try and play a game. In that time I set up the system, Kinect, live TV, fixed my privacy settings, did the speech recognition tutorials, and learned basic interface commands. I also gave up my name, address, zip code, date of birth, email address, and submitted to a full body and face scan with audio calibration matching this data to my voice. At every step I was confronted with different ways the system wanted to track me.

So, what about the games?

The first game I wanted to play was Dead Rising 3. I had Kinect scan the special day one code that came with the game (no more manual entry). I put in the disc and a lengthy install followed. About an hour in I got a notification that the game was ready to play. I started the game and the Dead Rising 3 title screen came up followed by the Capcom logo. From there the game froze and I got kicked back to the home screen. From the notifications screen I was told the game needed something so I was directed to games and apps. In games and apps there was an icon for Dead Rising 3 with the text “ready to start.” I tried to hit start but nothing happened. There was no indication of any progress. I kept checking back at different points throughout the evening. Eventually the game installed completely and I was able to start playing. I played for about 15 minutes before I decided to pack it in for the night and start fresh the next morning.

Like I said above, I tried to approach this launch like a reasonable adult.

Next time Ryse of the Drivatars.

Scott Dobrosielsky lives in Northport, NY with his wife and dog. When not playing hotseat matches of Civilization 2 he enjoys Warcraft 2 multiplayer on his friend’s LAN. He posts to the QT3 forums as Scott Dobros.