In honor of my Xbox, allow me to speak epicly for a moment.
I celebrate my console, and sing my console.
The gate to many worlds, the projector of many dreams, from the juvenile to the complex, from the violent to the serene, my console is a thing of great power. But his end is nearing.
(Despite the common nautical tradition of referring to beloved inanimate objects as if they were female, my console is a dude.)
My Xbox flirts with death. He has the unmistakable marks of a piece of hardware in its final hours. His CD tray, when commanded to open, half of the time simply shudders and wheezes. The console’s cooling fan roars as though it is a World War I fighter plane. His exterior, once immaculate white, is now discolored and blemished.
Most worrying, most suggestive of doom, is the one quadrant of the infamous red ring that on occasion will engage, an ill-omened crimson star rising in the night sky. The first time this happened I nearly bid farewell to the ancient warrior right there.
Yet ever onward he trudges. A few days later he returned to the world of the functional, but despite his phoenix-like return from the netherworld, I am not deluded. I know that soon my first next-gen console will have expired. And so, as people are wont to do when faced with the end of an era, I look back in appreciation.
In the years before my Xbox 360, I wandered the wastes of cheap laptop gaming. I ran games like Oblivion and Fallout 3 with foolish, futile hope that they would go faster than two frames per second. I delved into outdated titles and relished them even in their antiquity. But I found that there was a joy I was missing – the joy of playing the games of now, the games of here, the games of this time.
Before my Xbox, the last time I had felt that was as a teenager, watching with my family as our new Dreamcast jolted to life, displaying some of the most mind-blowingly vivid images I’d ever seen. These same images now look clunky and garish, but the memory is undimmed. I was constantly ready to be shocked by the universe my console was generating.
So when I received my second-hand Xbox almost a year ago to the day, I knew some bit of what was to come. But even knowing this, the present astounded me.
My 360 is large, it contains multitudes.
We can coax such beauty from this generation of consoles! Even the likes of the first Mass Effect or Gears of War, even BioShock with its carnage blurred by running water everywhere… The uncanny valley, that visceral distaste at seeing facsimiles of humans too close to ourselves but not quite right, is somehow untrod. The images my 360 has shown me have been so many things; ugly is rarely among them.
The breadth of our games is mammoth. Once, genres were steel walls. In platformers you jumped. In RPGs you leveled up. With a few transcendent exceptions, titles stayed within the conventions of their genres. How charming those games still are, but how small as well.
Now, genres are not walls, but curtains of beads. Games can skirt between them at will. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was one of my first ventures into this-gen. One could choose what genre it fit into: FPS, stealth, cover shooter, RPG. I exalted in the pathways that were no longer blocked, the openness of a world that had so much room for seeking and uncovering.
And thus, each game I encountered inspired a distinct feeling. Each game is whatever it wants to be, even when the result doesn’t work. Mirror’s Edge is a first-person adventure title that makes guns less interesting than jumping. Invigorating! Frustrating! Or the original Borderlands, its chimpanzee compulsion and stockpiling ad infinitum? Ingenious! Idiotic! I am awash in the complexity of play, a sandbox where your fun can be past the sand. Past the box itself and out into the grassland that crawls out beyond.
So, my Xbox, I salute you in your last hours. I buy new games and shove them into your decaying disc tray. I ignore your gasps and your failures, I squeeze from you every cutscene I can.
And when you do cease to be, when you lose the power within you and become one more scrapped machine in a world crowded with such, I will remember what you have shown me. You made me yearn again for the future of gaming. You took gaming from behind me and planted it here, fresh and vibrant and an unknowable challenge. You revived the world beyond the screen for me, and I thank you for it.
Urge, and urge, and urge;
Always the urge of the simulated world.
With thanks / apologies to Mr. Walt Whitman.
About the Author:
Aaron Matteson is a stage actor in Brooklyn, a Seattle native, and an alum of Village Voice Media's Joystick Division.
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