moby-dick-(or-the-whale)-58
alt_bar

WHAT NEXT-GEN MEANS

14 April 2007

In the current issue of GMR, the relatively new Dutch multi-platform gaming magazine I write for occasionally, sister-mag to [N]Gamer, there's a very agreeable article on the Playstation 3 by Niels 't Hooft. Niels is one of the more prolific writers in the Dutch gaming press, creating articles for various magazines that are, shockingly, actually researched, bringing them with all their nuanced opinion frighteningly close to actual journalism.

Bitter, sweeping cynism aside, there is one little bit in his otherwise very good piece on the PS3 that I found completely anathema. Near the end, he discusses Phil Harrison's outrageous claim that 'the next generation doesn't start until Sony says it does' and defends it by pointing out the various technical specs of the PS3 that are lacking in its competitors (mainly its support for 1080p HD resolution, inclusion of a next-gen media player (BluRay) and the quietude of its processor). In my eyes, Niels makes two mistakes here.

First off, the negative backlash regarding Harrison's oft-quoted blurb is two-fold. It was generally found that the contents of the quote were largely to be doubted (why is the Xbox 360, or the Wii for that matter, not next-gen?), but my personal complaint was the tremendous amount of hubris that oozed from the words, coupled with a small-minded jab at the two other consoles. Mudslinging and arrogance rarely go down easily with me.

Of course, the quote of one man (albeit the frontman) can be a media mistake, a personal pet peeve or whatever you'd like to call it, and shouldn't inflict too much damage upon an objective review of the situation. Is the PS3 really the only true next-gen console? It all depends upon your definition of the term of course. Niels obviously sides with Harrison in stressing the importance of technical features. But in that case, what of the Wii? Surely it would be erroneous to call it 'last-gen' on account of its deliberate strategy to incorporate mainstream instead of high-tech equipment. And where does the Wii Remote fit? Isn't it new and exciting technology as well? Is the next-gen monniker dependent upon a single piece of hardware that gets a facelift, or maybe even a gimmick, or does it require a cornucopia of elements for it to truly belong to that elusive vanguard?

Here's what I think. In my opinion, next-gen is something altogether more philosophical a concept. It's a state of mind that says: 'let's reinvent gaming'. It's thinking about games in a deeper way. It's implementing new and exciting interactive possibilities; conjuring up new ways to play games. Next-gen is about recapturing the wonder of gaming, like when you gamed for the first time. It's about no longer accepting bland, superficial layers of interactivity, but wanting to go broader. It isn't about more, or bigger, or shinier, it's about a deepening of the very core of gaming. It's about finding a new outlook on the shooter genre in Gears of War. About playing golf and have it actually feel like golf in Wii Sports. About creating your own physics obstacle courses and sharing them with everyone else in Little Big Planet.

And as you can see, technology has little to do with it. In fact, next-gen ideas can be created on the Super Nintendo. New technology can, and will, of course facilitate the construction of new ideas. But it will always be subservient to what really matters: the games. It will never be what gaming is all about, and as such it isn't what next-gen is about. Technology is cold, hard and dead. It's the ideas that people put through it that matter.

I'm sure both Phil Harrison and Niels 't Hooft know this perfectly. But it's just all too easy to be blinded by new and shiny gear, and get caught up in the whirlwind of hype surrounding the release of a console, leading one to think that hardware is not merely a receptacle and distributor of ideas, but the idea itself.

Roderick.