We interrupt our regularly scheduled post-E3 programming to bring you something… more important? More important-ish, at least. I mean, it’s still just another piece of video game related content on the internet – one of thousands posted today. But it seems more worthwhile than pimping a game which isn’t even releasing for another year. And I like writing things that matter sometimes.
The big story in video games yesterday was the fact that Microsoft reversed its almost-one-week-old Xbox One policy of forcing everyone with one of their new consoles to be connected to the internet at least once every 24 hours (or at least once every hour if you’re playing your game at a friend’s house). Also, they won’t have any region locking on the Xbox One and you’ll actually own the discs you purchase, giving you the right to loan, sell, trade, or eat your game discs as you see fit. Of course, this somehow means that you and up to nine other friends and family members can’t share your digital games in the cloud (a previously mentioned perk of the always-online rule, although their reason for why this isn’t an option for digital copies of games as long as you use their once-a-day internet connection mandate seems to be “because we’re mad at you” – also it was revealed today that this might have been just for trial versions of the full games). And you’ll still have to have that Kinect plugged in 24/7, watching, listening, waiting. The Xbox One only has to be connected to the internet once during the initial setup now, and (hopefully!) this can be done in any country with a broadband connection. It’d suck for the Swedish (Edit: actually Polish, oops!) developers of Xbox One launch title The Witcher 3 if they weren’t even able to play their game when it launched because they live in an unsupported country.
Still. This is important. It nearly levels the playing field this Christmas between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, as most of these policies are now identical to Sony’s “new” used game stance (which, incidentally, is exactly the same as it was during this current console generation – we’re not moving forward, but at least we’re not moving backward). Now the only thing separating the consoles seems to be the games and that extra $100 Microsoft is charging for their system, which could easily be negated by simply releasing a Kinect-free version of the Xbox One for $399.
The coolest thing about this Xbox 180 is that it shows that if consumers complain loudly enough and convincingly enough – or at least cancel enough preorders – they can enact real change in the products they want to buy. How this will affect Microsoft’s plans going forward remains to be seen, but, since Sony’s reactionary E3 press conference turned out so well for them, Microsoft had no choice but to follow suit. Luckily for them, the average consumer buying the console for their kid this Christmas will have no idea of all the drama that’s taken place over the last week – they will only have the final product. And it’ll work like promised or it’ll end up like SimCity. Those are really the only two options.
But there are a lot of other things happening in the world right now, too. Sopranos star James Gandolfini died; that impacted a lot of people. Journalist Michael Hastings died, as well. His impact on White House politics and the world was undeniable, and he was only 33. But there’s even darker stuff going on in the world than the loss of a few influential individuals. The NSA hacked into our lives and is cataloging the internet on giant, building-sized servers, like something out of a tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist’s wet dreams. Meanwhile, Obama is starting a fight with Syria while the Republicans are trying to force an abortion bill that will be vetoed anyway. As a result, nobody is talking about the NSA, even in the press. They might be reading this right now.
But no matter. Soon, the public will forget. The same thing happened with SimCity, which – just this week – was finally cracked to be playable offline, including saving. The game sold millions despite not functioning and contributed to doubling EA’s stock value over the last twelve months, even while earning the “Worst Company in America” title along the way. The same thing happened with Bradley Manning, who is still in a prison somewhere, having never had a formal trial. The same thing happened with the BP oil spill in the Gulf, which still hasn’t been cleaned up. The same thing happened with Hurricane Katrina – New Orleans is still in shambles, years later. The same thing happened with the Patriot Act, still in effect. You don’t talk about it, and people forget. But these things aren’t games. Lives are being lost and there’s nothing we can do about it.
I point this out not to trivialize video games; on the contrary, thousands of people’s livelihoods are dependent on the next Xbox NOT failing. On the other hand, thousands of people will die today because there simply isn’t enough food for them to eat. Drone strikes kill innocent people daily that just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And we’re busy being sad that we can’t resell a video game to GameStop.
This is why my Twitter is full of video game people. This is why my RSS feed is all game websites. Real news is depressing, and knowing a lot about the current state of video games makes me feel connected, like part of a greater whole that’s not full of death and sadness. And yet… real-world issues pop up in games all the time. Whether it’s a PAX Australia panel editing misogyny and sexism out of the issues it’s tackling despite it being as prevalent an issue in this industry as ever before, or a sequel to a gratuitously violent video game upping the ante by allowing the protagonist to actually rape someone, games are a microcosm of the world in which they are built, for better or worse. Usually worse.
Despite the harsh reality that, when it really comes down to it, games are just games (not a single one has evoked societal change on a grand scale – yet), they’re made by real people that live in the real world. Some of us use them to escape the reality outside the screen, some to understand it. But just because their primary function (at least traditionally) is entertainment, the thought that goes behind them? The love that goes into them?
The hundreds of plastic cartridges and discs I have sitting around my house might not be important when it comes down to it, but the ecosystem they’re a part of, the people behind them, the conversations they spur? Those things can change the world.