And thus begins one of the largest potential clusterfucks we’ve seen in gaming for many, many years. Well at least since 1983. All of the rumors concerning the Xbox Scorpio were proven true this past E3, as were all the rumors regarding the PS4 Neo, excuse me, “Pro.” These upgraded versions of the existing generation of consoles promises full 4K TV support (sort of,) higher graphics performance and a bunch of other numbers that’s supposed to collectively get us hard, wet or whatever it is you need to get you “in the mood” to part ways with hard earned cash—all while tossing your less-than-five-year-old consoles into a landfill where the plastic and other components will contribute to our ever-growing e-pollution issues.
As might not be completely obvious, I hold some slightly negative perspectives on these decisions by Microsoft and Sony. At the very least, Sony didn’t make the blunder of announcing a really cool new version of their console in the immediate future, with an even better and likely more expensive version on the way in the near future, as was Microsoft’s confusingly dumb decision when they simultaneously announced the Xbox Scorpio and the Xbox One S in the same conference.
There are a dozen reasons why these new consoles are problematic, but let me start with the first and the central thesis of my argument here: Console gaming was never about having the best possible gaming experience from a technical perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about the technical specs of these machines and was more than excited when I heard about what was going to be under the hood in the PS4. I was more than happy with 8 gigs of GDDR5—especially considering the PS3 only had 256 MEGABYTES of RAM. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what these numbers would mean, but at the time it was a cool thing to read about until I started learning more about what I actually intended on buying the console for: Games. That’s what console gaming is about. We’re happy to hear the specs when the generation kicks off, but after that we as console gamers have collectively only cared about one thing: What games these systems would offer us. If we happen to have nice, expensive televisions, great. If not, all our experiences are roughly equal.
Sony and Microsoft as game publishers have the funds necessary to dedicate to studios and marketing in a way that creates incredible games such as Uncharted, Halo, Gears, God of War, etc. Because of their positions as large companies, they’re able to generate an experience that we as gamers simply love and have been coming back to for many, many years. Oh yeah, and I guess Nintendo too. Sure. It didn’t matter, to me, that the only television I had to play Halo 3 on at the time was this tiny piece-of-shit Toshiba SDTV. I don’t regret my experiences whatsoever, or feel like I missed out on anything at all. I still played Halo 3, and enjoyed it with all my friends through Xbox Live. As more games came out, Gears of War 2, Fallout 3, Dead Space, and many others, I continued to enjoy my experience because it was all I had. From time to time I’d get the opportunity to hook my 360 up to a bigger TV—or an HDTV—and experience a nice little bump in visual fidelity, but ultimately it was the same damn experience.
Many years earlier I would spend large portions of my youth playing my original PlayStation through a tiny monitor that only had one speaker. Every game I played I had to remember to switch the audio from stereo to monitor in order to hear everything correctly. It was on this setup that I experienced Final Fantasy VII and the original Metal Gear Solid—games that fundamentally changed my life and I still play to this day. It didn’t matter at the time what I was playing it on, what the resolution or the frame rate was, because I was loving the games for what they were.
These days I happen to have a pretty nice 1080p 20-something inch television that I hook my PS4 and Xbox One up to. It looks pretty, I won’t lie about the fact that I am impressed and do enjoy the visual fidelity, but I have this set up only as a result of what it means to own a television in 2016: It’s likely going to be an HD screen of some kind.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that being in love with high-performance gaming is some how shallow or a lesser experience. What I’m aiming to point out here are the ultimate purposes of gaming consoles to begin with; these are centralized, controlled gaming platforms aimed at giving a specific experience, and are far from the need to experience technological breakthroughs. Consoles are designed to incorporate an average of what we can expect with modern technology, and its an acceptable average that will be sustained until the leap in computing power is enough to justify an entire overhaul of the brand the console is representing.
Console gaming is fundamentally about a gaming experience where the technology is not the focal point. It’s an environment where the specs are taken for granted and no one worries about whether something will run properly. While nice television sets, sound systems and more can enhance the experience, it all fundamentally boils down to the feeling of playing a great game. If the specs and technological workings of games excites you on a higher level, unlimited potential (or really as limited as your wallet is) is to be found in PC gaming. You might miss out on some console exclusives, but you’ll have a gaming experience unlike anything achievable on consoles. But with consoles, the experience is only ever as good as the game you are playing. Final Fantasy VII is a classic not because of how many polygons were used, what frame rate it ran at and what it looked like scaled up to the highest resolution at the time. It’s a classic due to a memorable world, great gameplay, wonderful characters and a stunning presentation. While the technology does factor into the presentation, it is a small piece of the puzzle.
If your goal in gaming is to get the best performance, you are wasting your time with consoles—and this includes the new PS4 Pro and the upcoming Scorpio from Xbox. Consoles should continue to live on as walled gaming gardens—and this is not a knock against consoles, it’s a celebration. Some of us want that walled, curated garden because it guarantees an experience without us having to do a lot of the planting in said garden. Today you can build a PC that matches the PS4 Pro in specs, and the same will likely be true of the Scorpio when it releases. It will cost more money, but that doesn’t matter if it’s what you’re passionate about: That’s just the price of your hobby. I personally spend thousands of dollars on music equipment because that’s what it costs to maintain something I get great joy out of. But I’m a musician who records and tours on a semi-professional level. If I was content to sit around my house and just play through some favorite songs of mine, I wouldn’t own a quarter of the instruments and equipment I have.
I say all of this as a lifelong console gamer. While I have a few games on my computer, I rarely play them—and my computers (two Mac Minis and a MacBook Pro) are the farthest thing from even the most basic gaming platform when it comes to computers. And that’s fine. My consoles have always been reserved for my gaming experiences, and it’s an experience where the only decisions I have to make are what games I choose to buy. But if the current trends of consoles continues in this direction, I have to confess that I’m less inclined to stick with consoles at all.
If these companies are going to try and get the most out of our gaming experiences by prioritizing technological performance, then I’ll go to the realm where that need is sufficiently met. What’s to stop Sony, in all honesty, from releasing another more advanced console in three to four years? If consoles are just going to chase this trend of progress, what’s the point of a single platform? There isn’t one. That’s why the Steamboxes never went anywhere: PC gaming, and gaming focused on high technological performance is not a platform: It’s a way of life. I’m not exaggerating.
This is ultimately what happens when technology is commercialized. When Mp3s first hit the scene, the people who were into them were not your average music listener: They were all people actually obsessed with the inner workings of the audio codec itself. Turning an audio file into an Mp3 was a big deal in these circles—eventually corporations figured out how to distill some of this excitement and bottle it up into products: Mp3 Players, iPods, HD, 4k, etc. The same thing is happening here in gaming: Corporations are taking elements of technological progress and are commercializing it to people who probably wouldn’t even be able to explain what 4k actually is. Because in this world, it doesn’t actually fucking matter. 4k is just a thing people mutter to justify their large and expensive television in the living room.
The PS4 Pro and the Xbox Scorpio will, at the time of their release, be the most powerful gaming consoles ever made for no other reason than to be the most powerful gaming consoles ever made. Given that technological innovation is not contingent upon the gaming industry, these high-performance consoles will quickly become obsolete, defeating the purpose of their existence. PC gaming will always be several steps ahead, and when corporations are now trying to sell us on that technological performance, they will end up in an escalating trap—because what happens when the Pro and Scorpio are obsolete in three to four years? Do we need a Scorpio 2? A Pro Plus? No. What we need is to be content with consoles for what they are, what they always have been—which has never been to deliver a technologically premium experience; they’ve been about great games and nothing, nothing else.
Now, I will admit that Sony and Microsoft have gotten me interested with their discussion about higher performance. But if I’m getting that excited about the concept of higher performance…why am I going to waste my time with consoles when the features of a great PC is really what they’re trying to sell me? I’ll just get a fucking PC if that’s the case. Maybe it’ll cost more, but maybe gaming means enough to me that it’s worth that cost.
This site isn’t usually about such trivial silliness. I’m currently analyzing Metal Gear Solid V, check it all out here.