Critical Intel

Critical Intel
The Xbox One Would've Hurt Soldiers And Sick Kids

Robert Rath | 20 Jun 2013 16:00
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Impacts on Hospitalized Children and Child's Play

Soldiers weren't the only ones who would've lost out with the Xbox One. The console's online requirements would've made it difficult to accommodate in medical facilities. That could've had major ramifications for children's hospitals that benefit from Child's Play, the game industry's chosen charity.

Victoria Vaden, the education coordinator at Dell Children's Medical Center, spoke with me by email about how therapeutic games can be for young people undergoing medical treatment: "Video games can be especially important for school age and teenage patients in the hospital for distraction from pain, discomfort and boredom as well as positive diversion. If a patient can focus on playing a videogame that is familiar and fun, stress levels decrease, pain can become less bothersome and memories of the hospital include positive, fun experiences."

Dell Children's Medical Center keeps a playroom with multiple consoles, but according to Vaden those aren't currently connected to the internet, and getting them online could cost thousands of dollars. "If we had to drop a new port in order to connect the system, then it would be prohibitive unless we had donor/grant money to cover the cost," she said. "In terms of incorporating the process of connecting the machines to the internet each day, this is something we could probably manage fairly easily into our playroom opening and closing procedures." But, she adds, they don't want their consoles connected to the internet at all. "That adds another level of liability in terms of patients potentially accessing inappropriate content on the internet or logging in to accounts and not logging out before another user starts playing."

But the playroom isn't the only way kids access games at Dell Children's. Like most children's hospitals, Dell has a corps of traveling carts that bring consoles to kids too sick to leave their beds. "Game carts are especially important to patients who cannot leave their rooms," says Vaden. "These carts can provide a sense of normalization (or a bit of a normal environment) during a time when most things are atypical." The onerous process of connecting the Xbox One to the internet, however, meant it probably couldn't have been part of the lending system. "This would be extremely difficult to the point that we would most likely decide not have the Xbox One on a game cart."

Overall, the impression is that an internet-connected console is a complication hospitals don't need. When you're managing a lending library of consoles and games, ease of use is a major factor and extra steps are the enemy. It's better to have something that can just plug in and play.

Cloud-Based Games Will Still Be A Problem

Yesterday Microsoft took a laudable step toward repairing consumer trust, but it doesn't mean soldiers and children's hospitals will be able to play every game on the Xbox One. While online check-ins are gone, relying on cloud-based computing could still make some games unplayable - even in single player - unless you have a steady connection. Sailors aboard an aircraft carrier or teens in the hospital may not be able to play Titanfall, for instance, since it offloads to remote servers. One hopes that Microsoft plans to label these cloud-based games clearly in order to avoid confusion, as they do with games that require Kinect.

The question also becomes whether cloud-based games will completely dominate the console, or whether there will be enough offline titles to justify the purchase. When game developers get a new tool they're generally tempted to use it, and if cloud gaming is the future - as Microsoft seems to believe - we've only delayed the problem. Some developers will no doubt prove hesitant to embrace the cloud because it complicates multi-platform development, but we may still see a gradual phasing-out of offline games. It's important to remember that Microsoft envisioned Xbox One as a gateway drug for the digital marketplace, something that would accept disks but was capable of switching to downloadable titles down the road. It's a smart strategy that gives the console a longer shelf life and makes it more flexible in the long term, but it also makes it possible for Microsoft to sneak its torpedoed policies in through the back door.

Gaming Beyond the Living Room

When it revealed the Xbox One, Microsoft kept repeating how they wanted to "own the living room." But with this narrow focus, they neglected to look beyond the living room, to the places where people take consoles specifically because they're a means of escape.

They forgot the Marine at Camp Leatherneck, putting in a round of Call of Duty: Ghosts before he hits the rack.

They forgot the submariners, racing cars under a thousand feet of water.

They forgot a hospitalized little girl, whose only bright moment in a day of blood draws and chemotherapy might be a few minutes with Fantasia: Music Evolved.

I applaud Microsoft for reversing their decision about region lock and online check-ins, since it allows these groups to continue playing. There's no question it was a difficult choice and caused some loss of face, but I respect that Microsoft is willing to change, even if it took extreme pressure. New technology will always leave some people behind, but if those people are sick kids and deployed members of the military, you should probably rethink your system requirements.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher based in Austin, Texas. You can follow his exploits at RobWritesPulp.com or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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