The Xbox One is a video-game console for non-gamers. Confused? Most of us are. When Sony held its PlayStation 4 event, game journalists took to Twitter to make snarky remarks, but the reaction was at worst a mild indifference and at best an aloof intrigue. Microsoft had no such luck, but it doesn’t need it.
The Xbox One was billed as “simple” and indeed it is. Xbox One can be summed up by two things: TV and Call of Duty. It’s not actually revolutionary, but it is what Microsoft claims it to be — simple. One journalist in particular wrote an insightful piece calling Microsoft out on what she considered a “desperate prayer to stop time”:
“Yet by the end of the console event, I sat disoriented,” said Leigh Alexander on Gamasutra, “feeling like I’d seen one of the Big Three take a hard left into a past decade, a fictional privileged nation where everyone owns a giant television they want to talk to, where they entertain themselves with high-end fictional simulations of football season and futuristic, nebulous wars abroad. Where we supposedly want whole-body play. Where the fantasy is that all our living rooms are big enough for that.”
Like I’m sure many others did, Alexander “streamed it on a PC and took notes on a netbook. [She] talked to a friend about it on an iPhone. [She] participated in, processed and ultimately covered the announcements across three different screened devices, none of which was a television.” Her point: devices are the future of where good games development will flourish, not TV. She’s not wrong.
I also covered the event on multiple devices; I refreshed Twitter on my iPad and obsessively scribbled notes in pen on an actual notepad, paper and all. I iMessage’d my friends on my iPhone. “Yet in Microsoft’s world,” said Alexander, “the TV is still the core of the theoretical home for people who want ‘immersive worlds and epic battles.'” Sadly, I even watched it on a TV.
“The thing is,” continued Alexander, “developers will have to want to spend a lot of money making games in order for consoles to matter to gamers, who now have endless less expensive, more open, more accessible platforms on which to play and socialize. And in order for that expense to seem logical, a device like the Xbox One will have to appeal to a much more revolutionary audience than the exact same one that moved the Xbox 360 at the beginning of the current generation.”
Microsoft’s perception of the privileged lifestyle, however, isn’t fictional. According to Forbes, 96 percent of American homes have a TV and 49 percent own at least one game console. In 2012, 67 million Smart TVs were sold and Forbes predicts 87 million Smart TVs will be sold in 2013.
This is not counting Standard HDTVs. Owning a television fit enough for Stan Smith’s “Entertainment Altar” is not the problem. I own a 42 inch Vizio Smart HDTV and I’m poor. How poor? Currently living in a shitty hotel room poor. The real issue is that Microsoft simply doesn’t believe in the term “gamers” anymore.
As of this writing, 55,172 people (who I’m sure most would consider themselves gamers) were polled by IGN on how they perceived the event: 47.15 percent were disappointed, claiming there were “too many elements that didn’t really interest” them; 28.39 percent thought it was a “disaster”; 17.67 percent called it “solid” and only 6.78 percent thought it “fantastic.” However, game journalists and core gamers no longer matter to Microsoft. Its presentation was framed in a smug way that seemed to say, “you are lucky you get to even play in our sandbox.”
The reality is we live in a world where 20 somethings (that’s me!) use multiple devices with screens, of which one may or may not be a TV, where social networking is key, flaunting daily/hourly/instant achievements is compelling, where drawing value from how others perceive us and we perceive others is causing incredible stress.
Just swiping through Facebook pics of our friends is enough to induce a knee-clattering panic. It’s an increasingly connected society where narcissism is the word of the day, whether or not that narcissism was created or has always festered within humanity, now with a platform to holler from.
In this world, people always want the Next New Thing. The reality is we want the fiction if it will make us appear, only slightly, equal to, or better than, the next person.
Microsoft told us that what matters is America. Not the world; America. It is targeting those 67 million people who bought smart HDTVs in 2012, and the millions of current HDTV owners. The ones with children who do want whole-body play and who do want futuristic wars fought in mind-numbingly Hi-Def H-Double-Ds.
The ones whose parents are wearing Google Glass right now. The ones who want to fit in. The ones who are broke but want to feign wealth. The ones who say they won’t buy it but buy it anyway. “Core gamers” might as well be the Easter bunny in Microsoft’s mind.
“I’d like to see the console industry move on,” said Alexander. In a way, it did. We saw Microsoft move on from the “gamer,” scraping its boxy edges against the walls of a narcissistic society where survival of the fittest is a constant effort to fit in.
Even if Xbox One has an excellent ecosystem for independent developers, AppStore-like digital library of hundreds of thousands of free games and the hardest core of hardcore games ever seen this side of the privileged, the reality is that “gamer” is now as meaningless as calling someone a “filmer.”
We all watch movies and now we all play games. Our 49 percent fits snugly in the 96 percent’s belly. For Microsoft, gamers are the fictional privileged nation.