The Atari Generation readies itself for another war

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From Santiago Siri of gamesareart.com

With the X360’s pre-emptive strike on November 22, the game industry will see the birth of a generation of consoles. Once again, gamers (and developers) will begin arming themselves for the Console Wars in which everyone will take sides with their preferred brand.

Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have been fighting for a while. Or at least, that’s what they wanted gamers to believe. Truth was that all three offered pretty much the same. Controllers were quite standard and titles from the usual genres were published on all three devices. All the arguments to support one console over the others were quite subtle. And the best proof to show that the current generation’s “war” was nothing more than a commercial façade is that there are no big losers: Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are still alive and their market shares haven’t varied that much along the years.

The big thing about this generation of consoles is that, this time, the war will be for real. It won’t just be about healthy competition to see who makes the best games and the coolest console. This generation is offering, for the first time, a clear War of Paradigms.

In the blue corner, we have the promising Nintendo Revolution that had its “revolutionary” controller announced on the last Tokyo Game Show. Their philosophy is clear: interactivity is what matters, and gaming needs to offer a deeper experience through a flexible controller that allows users to play in diverse ways.

In the red corner, Sony’s Playstation 3 and Microsoft’s X360 show off the brute force of powerful processors for graphics and physics. Reality and simulation are at the top of their list. Games, for them, should look like real life.

The first sparks of the imminent clash have started to appear: Epic Games’ Mark Rein has recently declared that games are all about graphics and that the Revolution controller will spawn the “most crappy, cheap, gimmick games”. It comes as a no surprise from the head of a company that is strictly focused on selling the ultimate game engine for realistic graphics.

And this realism-oriented focus is a natural process in an industry that is still discovering its own tools. In the film industry, an obsession with technology was the common denominator during its early years. It took 40 years for filmmakers finally to craft colour and sonorous films. And the development of the PS3 and X360 follows the path of discovering the keys of game development technology.

But when film technology finally matured, movies became a fully-fledged art, and technology became less important. And just like musicians that sculpt sound to make music, filmmakers began sculpting light to make films. Games makers sculpt interactivity, destinies. That’s the core and the beauty of games – and the sole thing this form of expression has that others don’t.

So what Nintendo is really telling us on the other side of the ring is that, unlike the scientific/realistic style its competitors want to impose, they’re here for the artistic goals of game makers. Interactivity is what makes games meaningful and breeds depth in their content.

Yet all three console companies have one big thing in common: they give little space to independent developers. If we believe games are culture, and hence they deserve freedom of speech, the fact that console companies are hermetic to let indies develop for them, reminds us of the time when the big film studios owned every theatre. Back then, only the films that went through the studio system could be exhibited until the Supreme Court favoured independent film makers in 1948.

Games are the most genuine form of expression in the information age. And as the Atari Generation keeps growing up and spending hours and even weeks in front of games, we must start realising the potential and responsibility this new medium really has.

Because games are art.

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