Console Gaming Feels Over

I am unabashedly a PlayStation fanboy. I picked up a PS1 to play Final Fantasy VII, and I have never once looked back. I’ve owned other systems, mostly Nintendo consoles, but when it comes to current-generation technology, I still love my machine from Sony. Yet, in a weird way, it feels like consoles are sort of over, or at least dormant.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think the PlayStation 4 is the best console I have ever bought. It’s a rare day when I don’t fire it up. On the other hand, I just don’t feel it represents gaming as a medium anymore. Playing on it is sort of like going to Olive Garden and telling everyone what a great Italian dish you had.

Part of that is that Sony seems to be very much into the idea of the PlayStation's not being a gaming console, and instead being an entertainment cohesion machine that wants to replace my laptop and cable. And, to be fair, it does a semi-decent job of that. I get Netflix and Amazon and YouTube through it, and that makes up a pretty fair amount of my television watching. It’s not going to replace my cable, though, until the kid can watch Henry Danger, and the wife and I can watch Doctor Who and MSNBC on it.

PlayStation’s desire to cut other entertainment avenues out of my life like a jealous significant other aside, the console just seems as if it’s failing the gaming medium. Take libraries, for instance. PlayStation has a library of games going back to the ’90s that remain very popular, and yet the PlayStation 4 still fails to be a hub of what I want most out of a PlayStation — PlayStation games.

They’ve got Playstation Now if you want to play (some of) the last two consoles' worth of titles. I tried it for a while, but since I’m already paying for a PlayStation Plus membership, it just seemed like highway robbery. Why pay $20 a month for a chance to relive The Last of Us when I could grab a used copy off Amazon for $7 that would be mine no matter whether I canceled the membership or not.

That’s the thing that holds the PlayStation 4 back a lot. I still have both a PS3 and a PS2 hooked up to my TV, and I play them. Used games are a common birthday gift and stocking stuffer from my family, and they’re great because they’re not reliant on my maintaining a regular drain on my bank account. I’ve gotten some of my favorite titles from my PS Plus membership, but if I stop paying tomorrow, nearly my entire game library disappears. There’s no sense of game ownership anymore.

On top of that, consoles feel like the backwater of gaming. As an analogy, I used to work for independent movie theaters, and Houston always got the second wave of releases. The new stuff went to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and if it did well, we got it on wider release. This always irked the crap out of me.

Console gaming is like that. The most interesting things happening in gaming as an artistic medium are simply not happening on consoles. The Evil Within got all the commercials, but the real innovations in horror gaming are things like Anatomy and Devil Daggers. Even Five Nights at Freddy’s, for all that the series has jumped the animatronic shark, was a more compelling discussion in horror gaming than anything Triple A horror was producing. It’s sad to think the scariest thing coming to consoles is a long overdue Amnesia collection.

It’s not always like that. Some of the more interesting titles, like Firewatch and Life Is Strange, came straight to consoles as well as PCs, but that sort of thing is few and far between. I’m eagerly awaiting A Night in the Woods and Edith Finch, but things like Gone Home and Oxenfree just meander along at their own pace to finally come to the attention of console yokels long after initial release. Heck, we’re probably never going to get a console port of Undertale, and while PC players gush on The Beginner’s Guide, we still don’t even have The Stanley Parable three years later.

What do we get instead? Shooters. There’s nothing wrong with shooters. Some of my favorite games are shooters, but since the PlayStation 4’s launch, I haven’t seen a single shooter that said or did anything the PlayStation 3 titles hadn’t already done better. It’s just minor technical improvements on a genre that makes money but has ceased evolving. It just doesn’t feel like Destiny says anything that hasn’t been said before.

The most compelling conversations about what games can do are happening far away from consoles, and that’s not a good thing. They aren’t crucibles for innovation anymore, and what innovation does happen is largely cosmetic. Playing a PlayStation 4 is like living in a small town with a four-screen movie theater that plays only the four hottest films at a time. It could be so much more.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner