The Needles

The Needles
The Consolization of the American Videogame

Andy Chalk | 1 Aug 2007 21:00
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Consolize. According to the Wikipedia entry, it's the process whereby an arcade game board is modified for use on a standard television set. But lately, the term has taken on a new and sometimes emotionally-charged meaning for a small but particularly dedicated group of gamers, to whom it means something entirely different: The process whereby a PC videogame is modified for use on a standard gaming console.

It's generally thrown out as a pejorative in those never-ending debates over the relative merits of PC vs. console gaming, accompanied by accusatory claims about how much better a game would be, if only it hadn't been necessary to cut it off at the knees in order to accommodate inferior console hardware. Developers are forced to work with much more restrictive limitations, resulting in smaller levels, simplified controls and disturbingly superficial gameplay.

As you might guess, it's a narrowly-held belief, taken seriously only by a small percentage of longtime PC gamers who cut their teeth on Infocom adventures and still think of Sid Meier as that guy who helped out Andy Hollis and Bill Stealey. Like missionaries to a fading god, these people are possessed of both an unwavering belief in their rightness and their willingness to preach their truth to growing crowds of disbelievers.

Of course, it buys them no small amount of grief and derision. Like some sort of mutated Godwin's Law for the nerd set, the appearance of the consolization argument in any gaming-related conversation typically signals the end of serious discussion and the beginning of the name-calling and finger-pointing. The bulk of gamers laugh off the idea, flipping the virtual bird at anyone who too-insistently blames the PlayStation for the decline of the videogame; adherents to the theory seem to find the dilution of their games only slightly more enraging than their failure to be taken seriously.

For them, then, here's a bit of a backhanded morale booster: they're right. There are exceptions, of course, but the undeniable trend in the North American gaming market is toward consolized games. PC games look and play more like their console brethren than ever before, and major PC releases without a corresponding version for at least one of the Big Three console systems is virtually unheard of. It drives PC gaming purists nuts, but the impact of consoles on PC game design is beyond question. Here's the tricky bit: It is also very possibly the only thing that will save PC gaming.

The evolution of PC gaming toward console commonality will, in theory, bring it to the masses. Paradoxically, this isn't good news in the eyes of some of the platform's enthusiasts, who don't want the masses anywhere near their precious games; the Great Unwashed will bring nothing but heartache and sub-standard, derivative gameplay aimed at the lowest common denominator. There may be a certain warped integrity to that stance, but it ignores the very simple reality that without broad appeal, games won't sell. And when games don't sell, they stop being made.

This change in PC gaming is coming to you by way of "accessibility," a particularly galling concept for the anti-console crowd that conjures images of "dumbed-down" gameplay, hyper-simplification and the elimination of complexity as a barrier to entry. Kieron Gillen referred to it in his work blog as "lowering the bottom end of the genre" - drawing in more (and more varied) gamers by trimming the extraneous fat while keeping the core experience intact.

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