Slouching Toward the Next Generation: and the winner is…

, | Features

My high-water mark of pure gaming joy came as a ten year old on Christmas morning unwrapping a Nintendo Entertainment System. Since then I’ve had any number of great gaming moments. So when those Amazon boxes showed up on my porch, one launch day followed by the other, I had a flashback to those gloriously lazy days of my adolescence and early adulthood, of holidays and summer vacations spent playing games all day and staying up half the night.

At the start of this new generation I wanted to try and get back to that youthful exuberance. To spend less time thinking, reading, and posting about games and more time playing them. To ignore my steam backlog for a while, consign my old consoles to the closet, stack up all those unfinished last gen titles, and jump in feet first. I was fortunate to string together a few long weekends and an extended Thanksgiving break to just sit back and play videogames as a kid would. Like I had all the time in the world.

Now, after the jump, I have an hour before bed. Which controller do I grab?

I’ve lived with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for a few weeks now. I have a good feel for these machines and a few ideas about where they’re headed. With live TV integration through your cable box and the ability to seamlessly jump from entertainment to entertainment the Xbox One never wants you to shut it off. Sony, on the other hand, never wants you to stop playing games. By offering free and discounted games through PlayStation Plus and mandating compatibility with remote play on the Vita, Sony wants to wrap you in the warm embrace of its gaming ecosystem. The PlayStation 4 may be cheaper than the Xbox One but you need to fork out more than a hundred dollars for a Vita and Playstation Plus to unlock its full potential.

Microsoft has different problems. Not everyone has the desire or compatible hardware to get anything out of the Xbox One’s live TV features. And gamers have already taken to the internet compiling petitions to address the console’s most glaring problems: a cluttered interface, an unwieldy friends list, interminably long downloads and installs, lack of any data management, forced automatic uploads of game clips, and the byzantine nature of the Xbox One’s privacy settings.

Which brings us to the Kinect. I like the utility of navigating the interface by voice; of muting, changing channels, jumping between games and apps and TV just by speaking the correct commands. It’s cool to walk into my office, say “Xbox on,” and have the system power up and recognize me. What isn’t cool is the game implementation. Whether it’s voice commands in Ryse and Dead Rising 3 or head turning in Forza 5, these features are gimmicky, buggy, and do not add any meaningful gameplay. But what really bothers me about the Kinect is a feeling I can’t shake: that it’s just an extremely sophisticated marketing tool designed to glean as much information about me and my gaming, purchasing, and viewing habits as possible. When I see microtransactions in AAA titles like Ryse and Forza 5, I’m aware that we as gamers have already lost the battle against monetization. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept the potentially nefarious data-mining practices of the Kinect.

I greatly prefer the PlayStation 4’s interface, friends list, clear and concise privacy settings, remote play, and the speed of downloads and installs. Remote play alone — a futuristic feature just as compelling to my inner kid as speaking to my game system — has cemented the PlayStation 4 as my third party platform of choice.

But purchasing a console at launch, unless motivated by brand loyalty or fanboy-itis, isn’t about enjoying an interface or admiring a new piece of sexy hardware. It’s about the games. While Resogun is a winner and I continue to go back to it every day to both try and get a higher score (39 million and counting) and see how my friends have been doing, Microsoft’s launch exclusives — Ryse, Forza 5, Dead Rising 3, Powerstar Golf — are the games I want to play. The PlayStation 4 can do its damnedest to try and craft the perfect gaming ecosystem, but with Titanfall coming down the pike in March it’s easy to see how Microsoft wants to build momentum.

It’s easy to get lost in the weeds with all the prognostication and temperature taking, so let me set that aside for a minute. When I come home from work and it’s late at night and I’m sitting in my office and I see these two new controllers sitting side by side next to my PlayStation Vita, and I look to the shelf below my television and see two new sleek and quiet machines, all the stuff I’ve written melts away. I feel a little jolt of excitement in my stomach. I remember how my ten year old self felt about his new toys and games, and it feels good to be here from day one as the long expanse of this new generation stretches out in front of me.

But when I see that leering eye of the Kinect looking back at me I can’t help but wonder where the fuck we’ll end up.

Scott Dobrosielsky lives in Northport, NY with his wife and dog. He does not sleep on a gigantic mattress made of money. This project was funded by foresight, savings, and the convergence of a late November birthday with Christmas. He posts to the Quarter to Three forums as Scott Dobros.