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Cross: Stop the Gaming-Console Madness

As I walk to work through the financial district of San Francisco every day, I always causally glance at the various newspaper vending machines to see what the headlines are.

It's not often I do a double-take (that just goes with my increasing jaded attitude toward news) but the other day ... the other day USA Today featured a front-page banner that read, "PS3 vs. Wii ."

This is USA Today material now? I guess so. I guess there can be no more argument about whether or not gaming has "arrived" as fully mainstream entertainment when USA Today is writing front-page preview fodder about the impending console wars.

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And hey, where's the Xbox 360 ? It's just as next-gen as the others ... but it shipped on time, a year ago.

It seems like every technology blog, every gaming Web site and any publication about anything is getting in on the action. I wouldn't be surprised to find a feature on the next-gen console wars in Better Homes and Gardens.

The PR and marketing reps for Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft are working overtime, sending out machines to every publication under the sun, courting them with press previews and spending record dollars on advertising campaigns.

And while I was playing through some "Gears of War" co-op with my girlfriend the other day (hands off guys, you can't have her), I started to wonder if we're all so into the "war" that we can't see the forest for the trees anymore.

It has become more about "winning," about features checklists, about tracking sales figures and spouting anecdotal reports, than about having fun playing games.

Us vs. Them

Omigod, did you hear that the PS3 has trouble running over 200 PS1 and PS2 games? Sony said they would have perfect, 100 percent backwards compatibility! Did you read that thing where they made the guys camping outside of Best Buy leave? Did you see that comparison of "Ridge Racer 7"'s graphics on the PS3 to "Ridge Racer 6" on the 360? Did you see what Jimmy Whatshisface said in that one big newspaper or magazine about the Wii?

Sheesh, this is getting out of hand. The Xbox 360 fans are trumpeting the superior graphics and "it just feels right" gory action gameplay of "Gears of War" while they point and snicker at the software lineup of the PlayStation 3 — that they haven't actually played yet.

The Wii fans are trumpeting the fact that Gamecube holdover "Twilight Princess" is universally regarded as a stellar game (as if any major "Zelda" game is anything less).

PS3 fans ... well, it's the PlayStation 3, right? It's going to have loads of awesome games, and besides, "Resistance: Fall of Man" supports forty players online, so it's clearly "teh win," right?

I'm continually asked about which system someone should buy this fall.

Well, don't think about buying the PS3, because if you don't already have one guaranteed to you, you're probably not going to get one.

If you think the launch lineup looks so amazingly hot that it's worth camping outside of a store for days to snag one, then you wouldn't be asking.

By the way: None of those games are that good, guys. Go home. Or go camping, you know, in nature where you can make a nice fire.

The Wii has a good price going for it, and though the software lineup is small, it seems like everyone can get into the party games and swinging around the controller and stuff.

It's fun, in the way that it's fun to play anything with your friends. Games have sort of lost that, and the Wii sort of brings that back, but I worry that the experience is altogether too contingent on the whole "it's me and my friends" angle.

When you're by yourself, or when you're tired and don't want to flail around with motion-sensing controllers, will it be as fun?

Meanwhile, the press has glommed onto the console war as though it were the life-giving air they breathe.

The enthusiast press are all gamers, so they are somehow invested in these companies and their products.

The mainstream press ranges from complete non-gamers to closet joystick jockeys with similar company and product preferences.

Nine times a day we have to hear about this little glitch on system X, or how system Y's hardware doesn't work exactly as the hype-filled marketing promises of a year ago make it sound like it would (what else did we expect?).

I just today read a rumor, rumor mind you, that the Wii messes up pacemakers. There was no fact-checking or call in to Nintendo about it — no, it was more important to get that story up on the Web like, now, before someone else did.

My Team Can Beat Up Your Team

It reminds me of the kind of people who get personally invested in their favorite sports team.

I'm not sure why people who like one team have to hate some other team when neither one of them actually benefits you in any way.

If the 49ers win, I don't get paid. Players move from team to team between seasons. All the teams are owned by giant megacorporations that are almost universally evil.

The 360/PS3/Wii argument isn't any different. Neither Sony, nor Microsoft, nor Nintendo is a shiny, happy, altruistic company that gives puppies to orphans and feeds the homeless with all that money you spend on their games.

They all exaggerate in their marketing and PR. And all their systems, believe it or not, are worthwhile pieces of technology that are bound to have plenty of great games available over the next few years.

You don't have to "pick a camp," and you don't have to root for the demise of the other guy.

Just find the games you really want to play, and buy the system that they're available on. If the system costs too much to be worth playing the games you want to play, just wait until it's cheaper.

Passing on the PlayStation 3 doesn't make you a "traitor" to Sony. They haven't done anything for you.

The same goes for the 360 or the Wii. You don't owe these guys your loyalty, because frankly, none of them has been loyal to you. None of them has just given you free games or systems or really anything.

You paid them for some fun games in the past, you had fun, and that's the way it's supposed to work. Not paying them this time around isn't some kind of breach of contract or trust. I doubt they even know who you are.

The really sad part is that there are some fantastic games that have come out in the last few weeks and more coming in the next few, and they're completely glossed over in the press in favor of the latest tiny scrap of news from the front lines in the console war.

I've been thoroughly addicted lately to "Viva Pinata." It's truly fun for all ages, incredibly hard to put down and deserves more than the "I'm too chicken to give it more than an 8 because it's a kid's game" review scores it has earned from the enthusiast game press.

"Neverwinter Nights 2" is one of the best PC role-playing-games in a long while, but nobody wants to pay attention to the PC.

"Marvel Ultimate Alliance" is a mix between "Diablo" and "Gauntlet" with a big cast of superheroes. What could be better than that? But it's not a poster child for the next-gen war, so it is briefly reviewed and then the reviewers move on.

So much energy is spent lately on what will come out in the next few weeks that we tend to lose sight of just having fun playing games. It's almost as if a game can't be fun if we can't rub the other team's nose in it.

This holiday season isn't even going to make or break these systems: Their ultimate success or failure is a marathon run that involves a constant stream of new game releases and periodic price drops, not a launch-window blitzkrieg that invariably sells out of whatever meager allocations they manage to manufacture.

Just relax, play games, have fun — and give the war a rest for a while.

Copyright © 2006 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.

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