You Finally Really Did It!

You Finally Really Did It!

imageOn Tuesday I had a moment of weakness.

I'd been writing for a little over 12 hours straight (on various projects) and at about midnight or so I decided I needed to take a break and step away from the computer, which, for me, is like convincing my mind to step out of a 10th story window into thin air.

Between the fabulous distraction engine that is the internet and the marvel of modern communication that is email, IM, Skype and all that other crap, the little box has an amazing gravitational force, and tearing myself out of its event horizon is a daily struggle. I closed my eyes, thought of Christmas, took a deep breath and ... stepped away. I opened my eyes - I was still breathing. I had succeeded. Then the only problem I had left was deciding what to do with myself afterward.

I'd returned my Netflixes, cancelled my cable, was a little too drained to pick up the plastic axe and my eyes hurt too much to read a book. I'd have called up a friend if it wasn't midnight (and I actually did that sort of thing). So I was kind of stuck. I paced around the apartment for about 20 minutes or so. I adjusted pictures hanging on the wall, pet the dog, made a post-apocalyptic car chase diorama out of the handful of matchbox cars in the side drawer of my desk and attempted to tidy up the apartment ... I believe people older than myself call this "puttering." I'd just reunited my last pair of stray shoes with its permanent home when I remembered that Microsoft had been offering TV shows on its Live Marketplace service, and that I hadn't yet tried it. So I poured a couple of fingers of scotch, plopped my pimply butt on the sofa and decided to give it a whirl.

A few tedious moments of punching a credit card number into an on-screen keyboard later, my account was 1000 Microsoft points richer, and I was like a kid in a candy store. Unfortunately it was a candy store filled with those rock-sized globs of peanut butter flavored taffy wrapped in orange and black wax paper. I didn't have the time (or so I thought) to watch a movie, I'd already seen most of the episodes available of the TV shows I cared about and there wasn't an impressive list of shows I hadn't seen, but cared to.

I persevered, though, and found an episode of C.S.I. Miami I hadn't yet seen. (I love that show. It's so stupid, it's awesome. And David Caruso is Jack Lord reborn.) After watching that I was hooked, and dug around in some of the darker crannies of the lesser-known cable networks until I finally found It: the discovery which made the whole thing finally click for me and validated what, until that point, had felt like a waste of good puttering time. I found Invader Zim.

More specifically, Episode 8, in which Zim's robot sidekick goes haywire, takes over their secret base and turns into a giant robot dog which then rampages through the city in search of tacos. And burritos.

Zim is the hapless alien invader, whose incompetence is matched only by his delusions of grandeur, and Gir is his slightly-broken sidekick, who more often than not disrupts his master's plans by being playful and dumb. The two are like the binary stars of my personality, distilled to cartoon potency and drawn in fanciful, saturated colors with dialogue written by one of the more sadistically funny minds of our generation. To laugh at Invader Zim is to laugh at my own delusions of self; which is something we could all stand to do from time to time. As Gir would say "It's my favorite show."

imageAs I watched with glee while Gir, valiantly trying to be loyal and obedient, got bored, gave up the fight and began playing with a squeeze toy which would ultimately seal his doom, I couldn't stop laughing, remembering the countless times I'd done the exact same thing. (Minus the doom.)

I have, literally, over a dozen toys on my desk, and regardless of how prolific I may be on any given day, I've stopped at least once per hour to pick up something shiny and play; too bored to work, but with too much energy to rest. Just like on Tuesday, after working 12 hours straight. I should have called it a night, celebrated my productivity and gone to bed, but instead I sat up half the night catching up on old cartoons courtesy of the Xbox Live Video Marketplace.

And that's when the brilliance of Microsoft's Xbox strategy finally hit me (like a squeaky piggy barreling through the vortex of space and time). They've finally done it. They've created a machine that will someday become an indispensable home accessory, just like the PC. An Xbox in every home, under every TV? It sounds far-fetched now, but so did that other prediction, back in the late 70s, when Bill Gates first uttered it.

Microsoft's Live service is doing for entertainment what the home computer did for information: making it possible to access virtually everything, nearly instantly. Thankfully they haven't figured out how to keep it updated. The TV shows are all two or three weeks behind (and falling further each week), and their movie list is growing in dribbles (they'd added two new movies this weekend, from what I could tell). But once they get the kinks worked out, it could be the end of everything. Productivity will cease, pictures will hang crookedly on the walls and dogs will be abandoned.

Apes will rule the Earth. Damn you to hell, Microsoft. Damn you to hell.

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First, and most important, Invader Zim is an amazing show. I got the whole set of DVDs, plus the sold-separately box for the boxed-set, as a gift from my most recent girlfriend last Christmas. It is one of my most cherished possessions.

Second, and considerably less important than Invader Zim, I would like to say that the XBL Video Marketplace seems like a great idea, but it needs to be a facet of the system that wider audiences feel they need. When I first heard about it I was really excited, it sounded great. It still sounds great. The problem is, in my opinion, that the x360 is still a game machine. As much as I would love to see game consoles a standard feature in every home, the bottom line is that they aren't. They are still making their way to the homes of gamers, but not the non-gaming audience. The on-demand videos on the x360 is a great feature; however, I feel that smaller, media-centered PCs are going to evolve to a point where they function more like a cable box or DVR system. A simplified OS interface will give even the most tech-fearing consumers the necessary level of accessibility. The plan Microsoft is pursuing will certainly give it an edge over the other consoles in the same way DVD playback worked as a selling point for the PS2 and Xbox. With Apple's iTV on the horizon, the stream-lining of media PCs, and the ability to download movies on PC and Mac already, I don't see the x360 picking up a considerable level of sales because of this feature. The x360 might be the most concise solution for on-demand media right now; it will not be the only contender for long. I think it is a great feature that gamers will enjoy, but it is hardly the every-man's killer app.

I think what makes this feature intriguing is the potential that it has to kill the format war. I'm get sick of memory tech going off in five different directions every time something new comes around. Do we really so many different flash memory formats? No, we don't. We also don't need two different disc formats. I'm very excited about downloadable media, and I'm glad that as a gamer I can be on the cutting edge.

 

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