There was an error in this gadget

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Knowing How To Pick 'Em

Apologies for the tardiness of this post. I lost track of how long my queue of posts was and didn't get around to posting yesterday as scheduled.

I have objectively bad taste in video game consoles. Name a console generation, and I probably bought the wrong system during it. And if I didn’t buy the wrong system, I bought at the wrong time.

It’s not that I am unhappy with the system I bought at any given time. Quite the opposite, in fact. I have enjoyed thoroughly the libraries I’ve amassed on every console system I’ve ever purchased, and I’ve never regretted not getting a system for more than a handful of games. That’s subjective, and in subjective terms I have chosen well. My needs were met, my tastes satisfied.

But if we look at things through the cruelly scientific lens of math, I have a long history of picking losers.

Let’s start at the beginning. I got the 2600 shortly before the American Video Game Crash of the 1980s, also known as Atari’s comeuppance for greenlighting E.T. (which, incidentally, I owned and beat). Good taste in systems, from a market share standpoint, but poor, poor timing.

In spite of the loss of software support, I continued playing my 60+ title library until well into the 1980s. When the Famicon came to American shores as the Nintendo Entertainment System, I was still playing Pitfall and Moonsweeper. I procured a Nintendo Entertainment System, only to learn less than a month later that the Super NES was due out in less than a year. Nintendo’s promises to maintain support for the NES rang hollow.

Again, good taste, bad timing.

My next console wasn’t, in fact, a console. It was a handheld. Sega’s handheld; The Game Gear. And here is where we start to see my tastes in systems deteriorate. Given the choice between the Game Boy and the Game Gear, I bought the Game Gear. With my own money. That I saved for months on a $5 per week allowance.

And I didn’t even buy the system bundled with Sonic the Hedgehog, because I wanted Mortal Kombat. Which didn’t even have my favorite character (Kano).

I carried on with my Game Gear and NES until College, at which point I decided it was time to upgrade. So I did.

You want to know what I bought? An Atari Jaguar.

That’s right. And I went whole hog on it too. I even bought a custom fitted foam insulated suitcase for carrying it to and from college. Heck, I even bought a second one so my father and I could play Doom deathmatch.

I still maintain that Alien Versus Predator on the Jaguar is one of the better sprite-based FPS games I’ve ever played. And yes, I did enjoy Zuma, gosh darnit!

I won’t defend Double Dragon V, though. That game was just terrible. It was a crap sandwich with poop mustard and a turd instead of a pickle.

After about two years of that, I rented a Nintendo 64 and was so impressed that I bought one of those. Yep. Given the choice between a Playstation and a Nintendo 64, I went with the 64. Because Solid State was the Wave of the Future!

When I graduated college, I graduated to one of those new fangled optical game systems. That’s right; I traded in my N64 and bought Sega’s Dreamcast.

(Sighs wistfully)

Sega died in the early 21st century, followed by my Dreamcast, by which point Sony’s Playstation 2 had been on the market long enough to ferret out the bugs that cropped up after launch, because 21st century console developers think that Early Adopter = Beta Tester.

With the Xbox and Gamecube coming out soon, I opted for the Playstation 2. For once I picked the winner of a generation. Was the streak broken? Oh, I think you can guess the answer to that.

In 2003… or was it 2004? I can’t remember… I decided to supplement my library with a handheld system. The DS had been freshly released, so naturally I bought… a Game Boy Advance. Within what felt like a month, the only purchasable titles for the GBA were used.

In 2005, after getting married, my wife and I took some money we’d received as a wedding gift and bought (drumroll please!) a Gamecube!

In 2006 I decided, once again, that I could be happy with only a handheld system instead of a proper console. And what handheld do you think I picked when faced with the choice of the DS and the PSP? That’s right, I bought the PSP.

And I will state and defend as necessary that Every Extend Extra is a vastly underrated game, and that Chile Con Carnage is the best implementation of a third person shooter on a portable system.

The fiction that I could be satisfied with a handheld system was broken in a few short years, and in 2008 I bought a Playstation 3, which we can all agree is the loser of the current generation’s console war. I can hear some of you grumbling out there, but look at the NPD numbers. Third place in a field of three = loser. It’s true in Mario Kart, it’s true in life.

Now, I’d like to reiterate that I’ve never been unhappy with a system I’ve purchased. I’ve had fun playing the games on every one, and the only system that didn’t outlive its usefulness was the Dreamcast, which suffered an optical drive failure shortly after Sega announced they’d no longer support the system. My NES still works, and both of my Jaguars are still functional. My PS2 is, thankfully, still in working order because it’s the only system that runs my two favorite games of all time: God Hand and Gungrave Overdose. My Game Gear will be a gift to my children when they’re old enough to handle a handheld system, and my kids will be cutting their gamer’s teeth with the GameCube library I’ve stockpiled.

So from my perspective, I’ve chosen wisely. The point of this post isn’t to lament how horrible my choices have been, but rather to ponder whatever quality it is I possess that puts me so firmly outside the mainstream of gamerdom.

It’s not like I don’t do my research. Before I commit money to a system, I look at the current library and the upcoming releases to see if there’s anything that makes me really want to sit up and take notice. Back before the internet, I would read gamer magazines. Later I would go to IGN until their editorial choices cheesed me off enough to swear them off for good (seriously, I won’t even read FAQs that show up in google searches at IGN. If the only walkthrough for a game I’m having trouble with is on IGN, I’ll just figure it out myself) and I wound up at Gamespot, followed by Metacritic. I’ll hit Amazon to see what’s out, what’s cheap, and what’s coming. I’ll read forums and news sites to see how people fare with the console of their choice (one of the factors in my decision to buy a Nintendo 64 over a PS1 was the fact that I’d heard about a lot of optical drive failures on the PS1 and decided that solid state was the way to go).

So I do all that work, and I still end up choosing wrong. Why?

The reflexive answer is to say that the majority of people are idiots. After all, the majority of people didn’t watch Firefly. The majority of people didn’t play God Hand. The majority of people have never read a Discworld novel.

But I’m not the sort to call someone an idiot for disagreeing with me about aesthetics. And even if I were, the question only shifts from being “why am I different?” to “Why is everyone else so stupid?” That’s rhetorically comforting, but doesn’t get me any closer to an answer.

My wife has noted that I do have a stubborn tendency to do what makes sense to me in spite of any obstacles it throws in my path. In high school, I wore a fanny pack to keep my pencils and calculator in because I didn’t want them getting lost or broken in my bookbag. This opened me up to a lot of abuse, but I didn’t stop wearing it because it was functional and served my needs. This is pretty much the same thing, except nobody’s using rubber bands to shoot paper clips at my head. The only social ostracism I face now is the fact that nobody in the forums I frequent talk about the PS3 versions of a game that came out on multiple platforms. I can live with that.

Maybe it can’t be explained. Maybe my tastes are just wired different. After all, I seem to be the only person in America who thinks Seinfeld is vastly overrated, and try as I might I could never bring myself to enjoy The X-Files. The list of significant cultural milestones that I personally can’t stand is quite long. Why should gaming be any different?

Indeed, it isn’t. Even on the more accepted, successful systems in my history, my game library is less than well known. My two favorite games for the PS3 (God Hand and Gungrave Overdose) were not well received critically, and hit the bargain bin within months of launch. Nobody bought them, nobody played them, and nobody liked them. Except me.

And then, when the creative mind behind God Hand comes out with something that achieves some critical and commercial success, it’s Bayonetta: A game that I won’t have in my house for reasons that; in the interest of keeping the no-controversy promise from my inaugural post; I won’t go into in this post.

So my contrarianism seems boundless. I don’t think I’ll figure it out here, now that I’m over 1600 words into it. Maybe I read too much Calvin and Hobbes as a kid (the philosophers, not the comics). Maybe I read too much Calvin and Hobbes (the comic). Maybe my mother was frightened by a conformist when she was pregnant with me. Whatever the case, I seem to be doomed by my own predilections to pick the losers of any given console generation.

Savvy shoppers will want to take note of what system catches my fancy in the next generation, and but their competitor. You’re likely to be guaranteed years of solid software support.