With the UK release of the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 just around the corner, the next generation of consoles is officially upon us. This opens the door to amazing new possibilities as more processing power, easier development and greater connectivity become available to designers great and small. However all these benefits come at a great cost, a war is brewing (as so often happens with the simultaneous release of consoles) and I for one think that its about time for the fighting to stop.
A recent South Park episode entitled Black Friday really puts the situation into perspective. The boys all band together at the beginning of the episode and agree to fight on Black Friday in order to receive the offered 80% discount to the first people in the shop. Without this discount, Cartman argues, they will not be able to afford next-gen systems. This rare example of unity is shattered the moment Kyle mentions the Xbox One, suddenly the kids realize that they do not all want the same console.
What begins is a flame war, characteristic of your average message board nonsense. “Eh but I want a PS4, not a crappy Xbox.”,”They’re not better, they’re just more expensive.” Already the classic South Park metaphor of demonstrating how childish a feud is by having it enacted by children is evident, but then the creators go one step further. Stan ‘betrays’ Kyle and sides with the PlayStation group. What follows is this perfectly directed satire:
- Kyle: No! We can’t divide like this! (Stan leaves the Xbox group) Stan? (Stan turns around) You’re on our side, right?
- Stan: I like the PS4’s controller better.
- Kyle: (pleading)Stan, the PS4 doesn’t have the seamless transition between games, movies, and TV offered by Xbox One.
- Stan: (tears welling up) The PS4 has a touchpad interface. You never listened. I told you I thought the PS4 was better, but you never wanted to listen to me, Kyle. You just had your head so set because… (angry) because that’s how Xbox people are.
The juxtaposition between this scene of a divided friendship and the previous scene of a united front emphasises the point Trey Parker and Matt Stone are trying to get across: the only people the console war hurts are ourselves. Furthermore the boys say such things as “the PS4 has a touchpad interface” as if it is a matter of life and death, expressing the same emotion behind many a Redditor’s comment, only in real life. This shows just how ridiculous our emotional attachments to these consoles really are.
In true South Park fashion the conflict escalates, and the second part of the three-parter sees Sony and Microsoft execs murdering people and supplying the boys with weapons as the literal death toll rises. To me, however, the more grounded emotional story about Stan and Kyle does more then any amount of cartoonish violence to emphasise not only the absurdity, but the tragedy of these ‘console wars’. It is not hard to imagine a pair of friends in exactly the same position as Kyle and Stan, who fall out over as silly a decision as which console they chose. Similarly kids and adults alike will undoubtedly be harassed in life and online for a choice that, at the end of the day, is completely meaningless.
South Park, then, shows us the problems with the console war but what is the solution? To that we must turn to Gametrailers.com’s own Kyle Bosman. Kyle is that rare breed of journalist who combines sincere, unbridled passion for the medium with a fair and insightful approach to critiquing it. In his part sketch, part critique ‘The Battle of the Bands‘ Kyle expresses an interesting metaphor for looking at the console wars which, if embraced, could solve all of the harm they cause without necessitating they to disappear. As the title suggests he characterises the war as a competition between rival bands similar to the movie School of Rock. Each of the main companies, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo each get their own band and song, which Kyle shows at the end of the video (they are actually quite good songs). After the show however, a curious thing happens. In a move that arguably predicted Microsoft’s reaction to the PlayStation 4 launch, Kyle has the three bands congratulate each other:
- Sony: Content Experience (Microsoft), you guys were alright.
- Nintendo: Yeah we thought you guys were pretty good to.
- Microsoft: Hey, we were all good. You know, what does it matter who won ‘The Battle of the Bands’? I mean how do you win with something like music? We all performed, and the audience had fun. So grand prize aside, I think we all did a pretty, darn good job.
This characterisation is used to show how similar the three companies are inasmuch as their goals are the same. They don’t only want to win ‘The Battle of the Bands’ but also to create a really great ‘song’ (read: console) which everyone can enjoy. Even if the companies aren’t quite as benign as Kyle’s caricatures make out (and I expect they are not) the attitude he shows in them is a healthy attitude which I believe we as consumers should adopt. Since, at the end of the day, these consoles are there for entertainment, they exist to bring joy to the lives of millions across the world. This is something we often lose sight of when the fog of war sets in. We shouldn’t be mired in hatred based in disagreement over which console is the best at entertaining, but rather be glad that such a variety of quality choices exist.
So what have we learned today then? In South Park we saw the devastation the console war mentality can have: ruining friendships and perpetuating bullying. We also saw just how ridiculous it is that these arguments even exist or are fought as vehemently as they are. But most of all we learned, in Kyle Bosman’s sketch, that competition doesn’t have to devolve into warfare but can be turned into an exhibition to showcase what is great about every console, and the medium of gaming itself. If I can leave you with one though it would be this: stop worrying about who will win the console war or which console is best and focus on the fun that a new generation can bring. That way we can all move forward together as one gaming community, regardless of which console we happen to have chosen.