All In The Name Of Progress... - mbellacio Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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All In The Name Of Progress...

 

Technology is a funny thing. Usually, when we think of new technology, our minds fill with images of all the wonderful things that might be possible through the wonders of science and medicine. And to be certain, humans have made many admirable achievements in just the past 100 years, let alone the last 1000 years or so. From transportation and medicine, to space exploration and the internet, humans have much to appreciate and be proud of. But despite the ever growing heights of the achievements of men, some of the best things in our world remain immune to the passing of time. So it is with irony that we find that even as technology allows us to do many familiar things in new ways, the more that things change, the more they also tend to stay the same.

Progress. Ah, the everlasting push for progress. The desire of men to better themselves. I bring this up because this time, this era is all about technology and progress. If you briefly consider the gains in science and technology that have occurred just within the past ten years, the scope of it is positively staggering. And one of the best ways to observe that growth and advancement is in video games and electronic entertainment.

The fact that video games have ballooned into a multi-billion dollar industry that rivals the film industry is a testament to how important they have become to our culture. Though many view piracy as a blight upon the electronic entertainment industry, it could also be seen as clear sign of how voracious the demand is for new entertainment experiences. Games have become more than just simple amusement, more than just a way to pass time. Games have now become a modern metaphor for the lives of many. Personal fulfillment, self-expression and exploration of morality and ethics. These are things that are now deeply part of the modern entertainment experience. In many ways, humans are doing things they've never done before.

When the rewards that science and technology yields are clear, I am usually in favor of it. But a critical element to the notion of "progress" is perception. The concept of progress is both artificial and arbitrary. Aritificial because it mostly does not exist outside of the world of human thought, and arbitrary because it changes so easily with the prevailing thoughts of humans.

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This brings me to the state of the modern gaming scene. And as we stand on the cusp of a new generation of consoles and software, we are inundated with all manner of boasts, claims and pronouncements of how the world of digital entertainment will be revolutionized. Some of these claims will prove true. Others will be revealed as less than true.

Over the past few months, gamers and technophiles alike have seen a non-stop barrage of press about the Playstation 4, the next Xbox, "always-on" security measures, and the growth of digital purchases versus traditional retail. There has been no shortage of promises on how our lives will be improved and enlightened through "new technology". But despite the fervent nature with which these claims are made, I remain skeptical.

As I look at the PS4, what I really see is a stripped down and optimized high-end PC. As I contemplate the next Xbox, I see an alternative to cable TV and internet service, with games thrown in as an afterthought. When I look at "always-on" technology and the push for digital marketplaces, I see a new way for business entities to steer and control consumer traffic. Although many of these changes are billed as "progress" and vaunt how they will bring greater pleasure and convenience to consumers, it remains to be seen how it will be different than what consumers have had for the past 10 years or more. Much of what is billed as progress serves to benefit the business, not the consumer.

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Is this kind of "experience" in your future?

 

I would dare to suggest that these shifts in the business world also have to do with changing opinions about capitalism and free-markets. While both were once considered integral to a democratic society, in recent years one would almost be inclined to think that the idea of free-markets has become increasingly burdensome and undesirable to many in the business world. Don't we see traces of that right now? Under a purely capitalist economy, consumers should always have a wide-variety of options, competition should be plentiful, and the laws of supply and demand should help to keep the cost of goods and services in check.

Instead, what we are seeing is an aggressive spike in efforts to curb choice, limit competition and pricing systems that operate independent of the laws of supply and demand. Why else would you see corporations such as Microsoft, Electronic Arts and others stubbornly pushing ahead with various agendas that generate so much displeasure and controversy?

Now some might argue that these companies are doing exactly what needs to be done to move technology forward. They would argue that as much as you may love your current PS3, PC, XBox 360 or whatever, that it will almost certainly be rendered obsolete by the technology of the future. While there is truth to this, again, what is deemed to be progress has a great deal to do with perception.

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For example, when I was between the ages of 7-12, my family never had cable. As a result, all of my fondest memories of watching television boiled down to what was available on approximately 10-15 channels. Years later, I would get cable tv with 60+ channels, then satellite tv with 200+ channels. Now I have the internet and I watch whatever. Am I  significantly happier today because I have more content to watch? Not really. It's nice to have the numerous options for viewing entertainment, but the truth is it's just one more demand on the precious minutes of my day. I don't wake up in the morning thinking, "Today would really suck if I couldn't watch my favorite shows on Hulu. Thank God for the internet!" I am sober enough to realize that watching an episode of Breaking Bad, or Game of Thrones is less about improving my life, and more about just needing to decompress after a long or stressful day.

Likewise, the next generation video games and the hardware that play them are not going to cure cancer, end any wars or usher in a new age of enlightenment. Even in terms of just having a good time, it pays to remember that truely having fun is difficult to improve on once you have the basics. So while having a set-top box that is always connected to the internet that can play games, watch all the movies and tv shows you desire, and order pizza may be great, that is not necessarily going to be more fun than say... dragging out your old N64 to replay Zelda: Majora's Mask. Bottom Line: Not everything claiming to be progress really is. Food for thought as the "next-generation" descends upon us.

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