It’s that time again. Lining up in the chill of midnight, chatting excitedly with strangers about fond memories huddled around the T.V., getting the box, hooking up the console to your home entertainment arena, and marveling at the joy of cracking open a brand new game. The PS4, Sony’s successor to the PlayStation 3, is finally here. With the Xbox One, Microsoft’s new console, releasing next week, the new generation of gaming will have begun in earnest (sorry WiiU).
The generation of the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 has been around for about 8 years, and in that time the world of gaming has evolved. There were highs and lows (that means you red rings of death and PlayStation Move), but overall this was a generation of triumphs. Sony’s exclusives were consistently gorgeous and easily the high point for the system. Naughty Dog is specifically commendable for constantly improving their quality, making games like The Last of Us and Uncharted. The 360 was the place to be for the best online gaming experience of all the consoles, making PS3 owners everywhere envious of cross game chat. And the Wii, with its best having to be Zelda: Skyward Sword and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, continued to dish out the nostalgic treats that Nintendo does so well.
Now, as what some are calling the last generation of console gaming approaches, we can only speculate about what things will make gamers get excited and what will have them groaning. With PC gaming becoming an increasingly powerful force each and every year, and with Valve making a move to break into the living room with their coming hardware, there is much speculation that console gaming won’t be able to survive as PC technology sprints ahead. There does seem to be a general consensus among the game journalism community that this will probably be the last generation of consoles as they’ve been thought of in the past. Mircrosoft is doubtlessly the current leader of experimentation in this new generation of console gaming, challenging the notion that a gaming console need only be something for gamers. The Xbox One aims to blur the lines between entertainment systems, creating a console that melds internet, television, and gaming all into one. Even though initial reactions toward the console were overwhelmingly negative, and despite Microsoft’s constantly changing policies, the Xbox One has managed to stay neck and neck in terms of pre-orders with the PlayStation 4.
While the PS4 and Wii U may offer the more typical console experience, one of the more interesting aspects of this generation will be to see how the Xbox One fares out in the wild. Should its nontraditional approach to gaming be successful with a wide enough user base, then it’s probably a safe bet that this will be the last generation of typical gaming consoles. This is an era where one-trick ponies aren’t enough. Phones and televisions are smarter than ever before, offering more unconventional ways to consume media. It’s quickly becoming a rule that it’s not enough for television to have a pretty display, it needs a user friendly UI and internet connection as well. No one just answers calls on their phones anymore, they play Candy Crush and surf the web. Microsoft seems to have grasped this fact better than Sony or Nintendo: people don’t want their technology to just focus on one thing anymore.
So take heart in the coming generation, fellow gamers. Revel in late night multiplayer sessions with good people (and that one twelve year old who somehow manages to be in every online match). Marvel at the gorgeous visuals and the stellar level design. And seriously, enjoy cracking open those new disks, because apparently those might be on their way out too. More than anything else, this generation of gaming seems poised to be a swan song to the old way of things, and the gateway to a new and unexplored future.