Aging Gracefully: Gaming and the Culture of New

I lost my phone recently. This isn’t exactly an unusual occurrence. Of the three cell phones I’ve had since caving into the cult of constant connection, only one has survived. The first, a rather nice, shiny black flip phone my wife for me picked as a surprise took a spin through the washing machine. The last one felt out of my pocket, and I can only assume was picked up by some immoral samaritan hoping to get some kicks out of my racy text messages and nude self portraits. What can I say, I’m sexy?

So I’m stuck back with my old phone and really that’s not so terrible. It’s old (by cell phone standards) and beaten up like a post-trench run X-Wing, but it gets the job done. Truth be told, the phone I lost was kind of a pain. It wasn’t a flip phone, so I was constantly hitting buttons by accident. I can’t count the times I pulled it out of my pocket to find that it had been connected to my pricey, pay by the minute mobile web browser. Sure, the texting keyboard was nice, but is it really the end of the world that I have it takes me a bit longer to tap out a text?

So why did I replace it in the first place? I don’t really know. It helped that it was a free upgrade that came with my plan. But then again, why didn’t I just save that upgrade for when my current phone actually kicked the bucket?

I just wanted something new, I guess. Something with fancy moving pictures and cool ringtones. Something with lots of buttons and that made me look cool when I pulled it out of my pocket. Something that said, “Oh yeah, I’m cool. You want to sleep with me.” Of course, I always held it in the hand with my wedding ring. I needed to tell those eager strumpets I was taken, after all.

In essence I was being the quintessential consumer. The person that doesn’t really need something, but buys it any ways because it’s shiny. I was being the guy that has a nice little netbook but still looks at the newer ones in Best Buy longingly. The person that Nintendo counts on to buy every pointless new version of the DS.

The funny thing is I’m not that guy when it comes to video games. I look at my PS3 all scuffed up from various moves, its unused USB slots caked with dust, and I am satisfied. I want the current generation to limp along as long as possible. Some might woe the launch of the Move and Kinect as the furthering of that annoying motion fad, but my greatest hope is that these new peripherals will extend the life of the PS3 and Xbox 360 in a genuinely meaningful way.

I’m sure that Sony and Microsoft would like that. Console development is after all, an exorbitantly expensive. The longer you can put off having to do it, the better. Especially for Sony which just recently managed to get the PS3 production profitable cost level. Moreover, I really do think that motion control used well, could be a boon to video games. In the case of first person shooters I’m fairly confident that a well implemented, accurate motion controller a la the Move could erase the mouse advantage that PC gamers like to tout so much.

More then that though are the real practical advantages of keeping this generation going as long as possible. Even this far in the current generation new games continue to astound me with their visuals. And if the Wii has proven anything, it’s that you don’t need the highest end hardware to produce an attractive game. Super Mario Galaxy, Red Steel 2, Madworld; these all looked excellent despite the antiquated tech under the hood. Sometimes the games that stand the visual test of time are those that task themselves with doing more with less.

Beyond the shallow stuff like visuals, there is the just the fact that a lot of the best games come during a consoles twilight years. Final Fantasy VI came out in 1994 and Chrono Trigger in 1995; both around the same time that the original PlayStation was beginning to take center stage. Other games released later in a console’s life include God of War II, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Final Fantasy XII. When a system first launches developers need to learn how to make games for it. The games tend to reflect this. Just look at all the early subpar versions of multiplatform games for the PS3. Comparatively, with a few years of experience under their belts and a comfortable working knowledge of a console, many developers turn out their best work just as the dust is beginning to gather.

At the end of the day though, the biggest issue is really how much it costs gamers to play games. Even now, more than five years into the current generation of consoles, it costs the same amount to buy a new PS3 as it did to buy a PS2 at launch. Early adopters like myself had to fork over more than double the running price of a PS3 to snag one near release. One would hope that with the next generation of machines they might find a way to keep the price down to something more reasonable but there are no guarantees that in two, or three, or five more years we’ll be asked once again to sacrifice hundreds or even thousands of dollars to partake in the hobby that we love.

Gaming right now is pretty good. Each year on the same machines we see improvements, be it to the firmware, software or even the hardware. There isn’t any reason for the course of things to change. Sony says it wants the PS3 to last ten years. I’d be happy with fifteen. Because as exciting as something new and shiny can be, something should be said for a product that lasts.

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