We all remember the console releases a few years back.
It was a PR battle for the ages between the PS4 and the Xbox One. Not because it was a close run thing, but because one combatant managed to swallow a cyanide pill, fling themselves off a bridge, and commit seppuku all at once, leaving the other to stand victorious by virtue of doing next to nothing.
There were a number of reasons which spelt disaster for the Xbone’s launch, not least of which the label ‘Xbone’ which, when put next to X-Speed and X-Special, sounds like the Pokémon version of viagra. Another was Microsoft’s unfathomable devotion to ‘always online’. In spite of quite vociferous reproach from pretty much everyone, Microsoft pushed forward this narrative that secretly, deep down, gamers really wanted to have to go online whenever they wanted to play games. Oh, and that whole sharing game discs with your friends? You don’t like that, either. Not really.
There are some pretty solid arguments against always online. The first, and my personal favourite, is ‘Why the hell does it concern you if I’m on the web? Let me play my damn game, you DRM-worshiping bastards.’
One other slightly more nuanced point of contention is that always online presumes the ability to always be online, an ability that many people simply don’t have. To take the argument to a more personal, and, I admit, a far more privileged place, let’s talk about the dismal world of British internet.
Imagine lying in a desert, starving, and having to watch treacle flow through a bendy straw as it meanders it’s way to your waiting mouth. Imagine watching paint dry, but it’s that sort of paint which always stays wet to stop people leaning on a fence. Imagine watching a speech by Jeb Bush. Only then are you even close to picturing the intensely, tortuously slow disaster zone that is Great British internet.
Us Brits have never done the internet right. As a case in point, one of our major internet providers, Plusnet, boasts the slogan ‘It’s Broadband from Yorkshire’, which is a bit like saying ‘It’s a herd of giraffe from the Arctic Ocean’ or ‘It’s a capable administration from America’. If I go to Yorkshire, it will be because I want to play cricket, eat soggy savoury puddings, and provoke a civil war which will eventually lead to the establishment of the Tudor dynasty. It will not be because of those giddyingly fast internet speeds.
It all comes as part and parcel of our dogged determination to never be in a rush, regardless of whether you happen to be a commuter disembarking from a train or a bit of data flowing through the ether. Even when some of us do get the faintest sniff of some of that perverse devil’s magic you Americans call ‘fiber optic cable’, it takes an absolute age to be installed and even when it does, it’s either in the big city, so that all the yuppie wankers can stream their porn even faster in a desperate attempt to feel something, or it’s in a tiny village with a population of seven people and a sheepdog. And the sheepdog is the most computer literate.
This becomes an acute problem when considering the bandwidth-destroying monstrosity that is the Xbox One.
The Xbox One is, if you are to believe the mendacious pricks doing Microsoft’s PR, a machine optimised for ultimate user convenience. What that means is instead of turning on the console, putting in a disc, and playing a game—as was the case in previous console generations—you instead turn on the console, put in a disc, confirm that you don’t want to sign in, confirm again, navigate past the adverts and twitch recommendations, then play your game.
And that’s only if the game’s already installed.
If it isn’t, then you might want to play with a paddle and ball for a few hours because those installation speeds hurt.
But even having the game installed doesn’t necessarily mean you’re home and dry. Oh heavens, no. There’s the updates to consider. Updates like Madden 16 adding in a splash screen telling you how much better Madden 17 is, and how much of a feckless dweeb you are for not buying the newer version. Or Forza Horizon 3 adding an expansion and having every fucker from Canberra to Perth telling you about how totally radical it would be for you to buy it.
Being online on a console is a dizzying parade of videos, adverts and downloads, all gift-wrapped under the nauseating label of ‘consumer convenience’. It’s a blessed relief to unplug the Ethernet cable, enjoy the peace and quiet, and simply play video games.