XBoned

If you voted for it, you don't get to complain about it.

If I wanted to be dictator to a totalitarian regime, I’d play the long con. My strategy would begin with little lies, and culminate, generations later, in an army of loyal subjects who know no other way of life. I’d convince everyone to relinquish gradually little securities here and there, but soon it’d all sneak up on them and the secret police would be busting into their apartments. I’d bombard people with propaganda until they couldn’t distinguish reality from the spew I’m feeding them. I’m relying on the short memory of the public, and provide enough distracting entertainments to shorten its attention span as well. But the trick is this all has to happen willingly. The people need to request Big Brother’s all-knowing Telescreens. Otherwise they’ll be suspicious.

Fortunately, with Xbox One, the next-generation game console, Microsoft hasn’t gone so far as to throw innocents in a North Korean prison camp. But I bet they would, given the opportunity. If even some of the rumors wind up being true, however, Microsoft is definitely guilty of anti-consumer practices that would’ve been unthinkable when I was an Excitebike tyke.

Generations of consoles ago, a game was a thing you buy that became yours after the cashier rang up the sale. Just like a book, you could use it, shelve it, trade it, sell it, or destroy it, because it was yours. Now, because computing technology is improving, Microsoft is able to treat consumers like cash cows, and keep games under lock and key even after purchase. Then they have the audacity to refer to these shackles as “features.”

Like, zero backwards compatibility? Back in the day that’d’ve been unconscionable. On the One, though, you won’t be able to play Xbox 360 discs, or even download games you’ve purchased legally over Live. Further, the days of bringing a disc to a friend’s house to play are all but over, depending by a degree or so on whatever plan Microsoft decides for used game activation codes. (Side note: NYU has discovered if games were cheaper, ending the used-games model wouldn’t be such a bad thing.) All of this is ostensibly to prevent piracy, but ultimately evinces a callous disregard for the law-abiding end user.

Of course, that’s where the blame lays, isn’t it: on we end users. We keep shoveling money at the companies that keep coming up with new ways to screw us. Always-on DRM was a known fact about EA’s latest SimCity game, yet it went on to sell over 1.6 million copies. And, despite the dubious ethics of DLC (downloadable content) and IAP (in-app purchases), more and more games feature these practices because people keep spending money on them.

And look, I’m guilty of it, so I have no right to complain. I have an Xbox Live account, which is a subscription fee to get the box to do anything useful with its Internet connection. I let Microsoft’s fake “Points” currency trick me into not realizing how much I’m spending for DLC that should’ve been included in the full game in the first place. Now that we’re so used to getting fucked, it doesn’t seem crazy for Microsoft to ask us to just roll over.

This is just what Carlin was talking about when he explained why he doesn’t vote. If you voiced an opinion and made yourself heard, as citizens do by voting or gamers do by exchanging money for products, then you don’t get to bitch and moan, because this is what you asked for. Yet here I am complaining anyway.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of relinquishing freedoms: This new Xbox requires a Kinect camera and microphone. What was once a dinky peripheral has been redesigned as a sophisticated set of eyes and ears that sits in your living room. The new Kinect will count how many people are in the room and guess their ages, perhaps for the purposes of a pay-per-audience-member system, or controlling viewership. It can even monitor your blood flow, meaning it will learn what excites and bores you, or let you know if you’ve died. Creepy. Big Data people will tell you they’re not interested in the actions of an individual, that they’re only concerned with accumulating data to sell to advertisers. But could a hacker with sinister intentions get a hold of your personal info? Probably. Especially if and when data is sold to third parties.

Technology and society has caught up with conspiracy theorists’ worst fears. Drones in the skies are killing people, surveillance cameras watch the sidewalks. We volunteer our private information to Facebook, and EZ-Pass knows all of our comings and goings. Oh, and Gitmo is still operational. Thanks Obama. Let’s add to this mess a corporate overseer for our entertainment, and make sure they’re tracking us as much as possible.

Apparently Microsoft is going to dispel some rumors at the upcoming E3 convention. At the very least, they’ll show us some games. And, if the games are good enough, I’m sure people will willfully forget all the shitty things Microsoft does to them. I’m hoping that by the time of the console’s release, all the information will be concrete, and the machine’s capabilities and drawbacks will be known. Then we can do some consumer research, compare XBone to PS4, and eventually settle for a Wii U or Steam box.

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