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Why the Console War matters

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I never thought I’d walk away from PCs, until I did.

In July of 2005, I bought my first computer. It was a flimsy Dell laptop that depleted my entire haul of graduation cash, and I loved it. My PC was my passport to the digital world, and I had never felt so empowered. Yet after two years of revolving my social and academic life around that machine, I made the switch to Mac.

Without a second thought, I turned my back on the system that raised me. And I’m about to do it again.

Now before I continue, this article should not be confused for a review of the next-gen consoles, nor a comparison. I value what all three options bring to the table. Yes, even the Wii U. Choosing between each machine is a question of priorities, and as long as you are honest with yourself about your priorities, you won’t be disappointed in your choice. This article is about why that choice is important and why it shouldn’t be.

In November of last year, South Park released a three-part series of episodes centering on the upcoming “Black Friday” shopping day. Spoofing themes from the popular Game of Thrones HBO program, the boys of South Park began formulating a plan to beat the crowds of shoppers on Black Friday so that they could cash in on the deals that would make the Xbox One affordable for a 4th grader. The boys quickly realized, however, that not everyone wanted an Xbox One. A not insignificant fraction of the group favored the PS4, and without discussion, battle lines were drawn, alliances were formed, and backs were stabbed. All in the name of brand loyalty.

Now, any gamer with an online presence is no stranger to the preceding scenario, albeit a version less hilarious. Check the comments section of any article or video about games, and invariably, a harmless discourse about one thing or the other will descend into salvo after salvo of mindless exclamations about which system is better, which has better games, which has better graphics. After 12 years, it’s become white noise, easy to tune out, and easy to accept as “part of the game”.

But then something happened. For the first time since buying the first Xbox in 2002, I am considering owning a system not created by Microsoft. What had once been an unquestioned adherence to the Xbox brand had grown into a healthy perspective on what I wanted from a game console. And after weeks of deliberation, I have cast my lot with the Playstation fanboys, for better or worse. I did not reach this decision lightly, however, nor without— and here’s the rub— the approval of my friends.

It’s all so obvious if you think about it for even a minute, but there is a seminal and inescapable reason why the “Console War” goes way beyond brand rivalry and cliche “us versus them” psychology. We see it everyday. People identify themselves through myriad consumer decisions. “Oh you like Pepsi, I’m a Coke drinker.” “Macs don’t get viruses, I’m never going back to PCs.” The difference, however, lies in the fact that after all the bickering, iPhone users and Android users can still call each other. I can still email my brother on his IBM computer from my Mac. Both sides of the rivalry are compatible with the other. This isn’t true, however, for gamers on either side of the console aisle.

Before the digital age began, the console war dealt mainly with access to exclusives. The debate was Sonic versus Mario and then Master Chief versus Kratos. Today the fight is Xbox Live versus Playstation Network. As gamers we’re far less concerned with what games we can experience (now that many of the best titles are released on both systems) and more concerned about with whom we can share that experience. As our interpersonal relationships become more and more digitized, the inability of these systems to communicate with each other has meaningful implications on our ability as individuals to participate in the lives of our friends and family.

I have significant friendships maintained almost entirely by our collective enjoyment of the latest Call of Duty installments, for instance. If I purchase an Xbox One, and they choose the PS4, our friendships would be put in jeopardy. How many Mac vs. PC arguments can claim that? And why would the want to? It is absurd that I have felt real anxiety when making my choice between consoles, an anxiety completely absent during my switch to Mac. It is absurd that the Console War exists in the first place. But the least absurd part of it all is a real yearning to not be left out, to be part of the conversation.

Competition is healthy, greed is good. But maybe by the next console cycle Microsoft and Sony can resolve this issue, and the gaming community can move forward together.

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