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Stepping into the middle of someone else’s argument is nothing but awkward. It’s tense, it’s uncomfortable, maybe it’s even a risk that shouldn’t always be taken. Yet sometimes there’s something that needs to be said, not for party-pooping, but expanding the discussion at hand.
“Next-generation gaming” is the hottest stock-phrase being thrown around in the industry, and for any game or article, it’s the quickest ticket to nabbing the spotlight. The virtual combat of smack-talk between the Playstation 4‘s and the X-Box One’s fiery E3 presentations couldn’t have been more of a theatrical spectacle of console specs and horsepower, all to the righteous cheers and jeers of their audiences. Technologically they all too different and very much the same all at the same time to people’s joy or disappointment, perhaps to their benefit and failure. Tradition and familiarity breeds trust while innovation and ambition fosters progress. Whether you found joy with Kinect or the Playstation Eye (hopefully appropriately), or experiencing better graphics and streaming capabilities, there were undoubtedly inventive new features to get excited for . . . or not. There were those with understandably too many games to play already this year or simply no desire to part with so much money for arguably superficial improvements. No matter what camp you fell into, there were options for every gamer, even if not upgrading at all was indeed one of them. Amidst the months of the industry’s guessing game about RAM and gigabytes, The X-Box One and the PS4 have finally arrived into many of our homes. The future we awaited or ignored is here. So why is “next-gen” a word used at all anymore?
For what seems like forever, the hot button topic of next-gen lit up seemingly every comment thread and gaming site, and the debate continues in spite of itself. Over these long few months of hype, the term of “next-gen gaming console” was and still is all too often a title won through exhaustive arguments over tech and hardware rather than by its mere definition. “Next-gen gaming” has one crowning factor and one factor only: generational succession. The question of 1080p versus 720p, the philosophizing over new playstyles, they’re irrelevant to the phrase’s meaning. The PS4, the X-Box One, the Wii U, they all stand as sequels, if you will, to their predecessors in the only way that you define a sequel: it simply comes after the previous.
Regardless of the scale of their technology, they are all “next-gen” simply by being part of the eight generation of video-game consoles. That doesn’t grant them the hardware, software, or experiential advantages that players find in them, of course. Yet it acknowledges what they are rather than how they entertain us. “Next-gen” is simply what comes after what we’ve had before, nothing more, nothing less.
I know, not a very exciting or abstract concept, is it? It’s not meant to be nor should it be. Think about it. You’ve might’ve watched every teaser and every Comic-con interview for the final season of Homeland earlier this summer and perhaps every one for The Walking Dead’s fourth season this fall. Those precious episodes to you were the next season and future of television. After sitting down to finally watch them, they became a part of the past. Would you consider The Walking Dead’s fourth season, right now, the next season of The Walking Dead? No. It’s already aired and already out. It’s what you can call “this season.” You can take the same thing away for next-gen. It doesn’t exist now until the Big Three reveal their next consoles in what will probably be quite a few years. As long as they’re a concept, that’s next-gen, but after hitting store shelves as their companies dates’ specify, they’ve officially become current.
It’s this little factoid that escapes a lot of people, gamers and writers alike, and it’s arguably been abused the most on Nintendo. Among the three biggest console makers, The Wii U has undoubtedly made some unique if not odd marketing choices. Yes, the gamepad has perhaps not been as fully utilized as it could be for all its games and yes, third-party support will probably be getting worse. Super Mario 3D World might just give it the shot in the arm it needs and maybe Smash Bros. and Mario Kart might just give it another big one for added measure. Those things are important and subjective to any good debate, but if anything’s certain, even the Wii U can’t be denied “next-gen” status because of these aspects. Remember that analogy before? Oh, yes, the Wii U did come after that Wii thing. It’s another generation of Nintendo tech, whether it’s high powered enough for you or stocked with enough or good enough games. You might categorize it as “that other console in the room” thanks to many things. Yet next-gen it undeniably is.
If it’s apparent enough by now, the next-gen debate is one that I do not hold dear, but rather disdain. I comes not from a place of resentment towards a good, healthy argument over gaming hardware or companies that I do not profit from myself in any way. I enjoy making opinions and hearing other people’s. At the same time, I can’t help but stray away from a valid argument that isn’t nearly valid enough. The people at the heart of these kinds of arguments aren’t folks I have a vendetta against, but the arguments that are too absolute in options. Sometimes it’s the question we need to change as much as the answers.
Gaming-related or not, debate is a necessity. It’s the process by which we communicate and advocate positions that help us come to an understanding. We needn’t involve ourselves with every one, but participating in at least one is inevitable as long as we remain social creatures. I know people will hold fast to their own interpretations of next-gen. I welcome their own answers while I give them mine.
We’ll no doubt be at this same place the next time a new console is revealed, but my answer will always be the same, regardless of whatever game company is the first to broadcast holographic gaming into our living room the best or make the decision to skip it. No, “Next-gen” is technically not applicable anymore. It certainly isn’t now at least, and neither were the popular theories attached to it in the first place. It’s merely what you put on the table after your old consoles, good or bad.
So how do you define next-gen gaming? Simple, complicated, simply complicated? Add to the discussion and write your thoughts down below and by all means, enjoy your gaming no matter what generation.
Tim Gruver is the Features editor for N00b Magazine.com. Follow him on Twitter or chat with him on Game Informer. He's likes video-games and a good taco by the fire enjoys when his Internet is running smoothly.