Is the concept of console generations becoming an obsolete notion? At first glance, the answer is “absolutely not!” Our current machines are definitely much more powerful that their predecessors after all. However, can we really call the games we’ve been playing these past 2 years “next-gen”? For the most part, I don’t really think so. So far, it feels like this generation has been lacking something something that we’ve had every other time. It’s taken a bit of time, but I think what we’re missing is that feeling that we’ve had a great leap forward.
Ever since the days of the NES, every successive console generation has felt like a dramatic leap forward. The NES provided experiences that the old Atari 2600, Colecovision, or Intellivision consoles could never have supported. The SNES/Sega Genesis went even further, and the N64/Playstation revolutionized gaming all over again. The Gamecube, PS2, and Xbox supported games that were bigger than anything we had ever seen, and the Xbox in particular gave many players their first taste of online multiplayer. The previous generation of the PS3 and Xbox 360 continued to expand our games and cemented the current relationship between the internet and video games. Even the Wii managed to offer something new and different thanks to its focus on motion controls (whether or not you actually liked them). Which brings us to our current generation and the question what exactly it offers that the previous generation could not.
The games we’re seeing on the likes of Ps4 and Xbox One are definitely visually impressive. In this past year, we’ve probably seen games that sport visuals that would top anything released for the PS3 or Xbox 360. Here’s the thing though: I don’t think these improved visuals have really changed anything. Just progressing from the generation of the PS2 to that of the PS3, the improved visuals allowed us to have games that were much more visually realistic; realistic to the point where we could explore populated cities and locations that could closely emulate the real world for the very first time. It really did feel like a great leap forward, even if it wasn’t as dramatic as it was during previous generations. Going from the PS3 to the PS4 though, I’m still having a difficult time seeing anything that makes me feel like we’ve taken a similar dramatic step. The game worlds can be bigger, more populated and flashier, but they’re not game-changing, at least not in any obvious way. If the big change of the previous generation was believable realism, then what’s the big change of this generation? Should we even be looking at visual presentation as a sign of advancement this late in the game?
It seems that if we were to point at anything as the big difference between this generation and the last, it would be the structure surrounding video games rather than the games themselves. All three of the current consoles have included a major social component in their foundation. Nintendo’s “Miiverse” is all about developing communities around its games. The Ps4 and Xbox One one the other hand have made easier to share our gaming experiences than ever before. The PS4 in particular has made it extremely easy to capture images, videos, and even stream gameplay to many viewers. These are consoles made for the age of YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook. At the same time though, I can’t help but think that all of this social infrastructure as mere trappings surrounding what were actually getting these consoles for: the games. All of these social applications are things PCs have been able to do for years, so can we really call them the great leap forward of this generation?
It may be that we’re still too early in this cycle to see what the big leap offered by these machines is going to be. It’s easy to see in the other generations now because we have the benefit of hindsight, so maybe the same will be true with this current generation in a couple of years. Still, there’s also the possibility that we’ve finally reached the point where there will no longer be any appreciable difference between successive gaming machines. Both Sony and Microsoft are rumored to have upgraded versions of their machines planned to release in the next year or so which will once again offer increased power and support greater visual fidelity. If those machines succeed, then perhaps they’ll do another release in another couple of years. Perhaps we’re at the end of distinct generations and will simply see regular upgrades for the “current-gen” consoles from now until they just stop making consoles.
We’ll just have to wait and see, I suppose.
What are your thoughts on our current console generation? Have you seen evidence of a leap forward in the games you’ve played? Where do you think gaming machines will go from here?