What is next-gen?

When ever the phrase was brought up in years past, my mind instantly raced to gorgeous graphical vistas impossible on current hardware, breathtaking realism, extravagant particle effects, and stunning animation. To me, and no doubt to many others, that is what next-gen was all about.

But here we are, on the verge of the next generation of gaming hardware, and yet this definition of "next-gen" doesn't accurately describe what the next 10 years of gaming will be like.

Sure, the graphics, the particles, the animation, the motion cap are all a step up. Have you seen Witcher 3? I almost wanted to cry when I first watched the trailer. It's beautiful; there is no better way to put it. That kind of beauty and that kind of immersive, detailed world isn't possible on current hardware.

But is it "next-gen?" I don't think so. Graphics are nice, but they've only improved marginally over the past few years. They aren't as important as they used to be, and game developers are looking for a new way to describe what exactly "next-gen" means if not huge graphical leaps forward. We as gamers have very little to say about what next-gen is, or should be, but game developers and console makers do. If this E3 was any indication, I think we can see clearly what their definition of the next-generation of gaming is -- interconnectivity.

If you watched any of the big press conferences last week you know what I'm talking about. Xbox One and smartglass are all about two separate products or devices working in tandem to deliver a better experience. Sony and the PlayStation 4, when they talked about the ways Vita and PS4 can, and will, interact. Heck, Nintendo did this a year ago with the WiiU - two devices, one goal of interacting with one another and thus connecting the living room.

It's not just gaming devices that are becoming more connected - we as gamers are too. It seems like almost every next-gen title is obsessed with us being connected to other players in the games we play. Ubisoft is the perfect embodiment of this wider trend in the industry. Think back to their E3 press conference. What where three of Ubisoft's biggest games? The Crew, a new racing game where players connect and drive across the country to take on challenges. Next we have last years big surprise, Watchdogs, a game where literally the game is about being always connected, further embodied by the fact that other players whether they be friends or strangers can hop into your and assist you through the power of connectivity. This years big reveal was The Division, an RPG shooter that is, surprise, all about connecting with other players.

Outside of Ubisoft's conference the trend is still there. Destiny was probably among the most talked about games of the show, and Destiny is all about inter-connectivity. It is about friends and strangers teaming up in groups large and small to overcome challenges. Bungie's vision takes the idea even further by incorporating some of the second screen connectivity mentioned above. Destiny is going to be on your phone, your tablet, and your computer in some way, shape, or form, keeping you always plugged into the world Bungie has created.

And of course, we can't talk about being always connected to everybody and everything without talking about the Xbox One and it's "Always-On" policy. If there is anything that firmly intertwines the definition of next-gen with connectivity, it is Microsoft's new console. Microsoft is so obsessed, and so sure that being connected constantly to the each other and to the internet is what it means to be "next-gen", that is has made it so the console essentially becomes useless if it is not connected every 24 hours.

Is interconnectivity a good thing? Is it what gamers want, or mean, when they think "next-gen?" If all the hate and backlash against Xbox One is any indication, maybe not. Me personally, I couldn't care less about the benefits of being connected 24/7, even if it is to friends. I'm an old fashion gamer. I play games to escape. Sure, I enjoy the occasional cooperative or multiplayer game, but I would give those up in a hearbeat for a memorable, story driven game like The Witcher or The Walking Dead. I don't want random strangers jumping into my single player games. I don't care about being able to check stats, look for groups, or receive a game invite from my mobile phone. I play games to escape, sometimes even from my friends.

As excited as I am to play some of the amazing looking next-gen titles coming down the pipe, I am perhaps less enthusiastic about "next-gen" by it's new, current definition as a whole than ever before. As the world becomes more and more connected, so to do video games. I'm just not sure if that is necessarily a positive.