I’ll Never Love Another Console Like I Loved the PlayStation 3
The games of the PS3 era were special in many ways, but also showcased a lot of the medium's shortcomings, ones that gaming is only beginning to deal with.
Silver PS3s on show at E3 in 2006 (photo via Wikipedia)
It's weird and a bit consumerist to feel an emotional attachment to an inanimate object, but this PlayStation 3 has been with me through a lot.
When it first arrived, it was a saving grace. I'd just turned 18 years old and I was living alone. The problems I had were small in hindsight – school, friends, a break up – but I needed something to keep me going, so I had my mind fixed on Grand Theft Auto IV. It was out that April and I'd pre-ordered it, and every time I felt like hell I reminded myself it was coming: "Yeah, today's painful, but that game will be good." And then, just one week before GTA IV was to be released, my original PS3, the one I'd got just a few months earlier, broke down. Fatal hardware error. Couldn't be mended. And I proper lost it. After all the rubbish that'd been happening, now the one little thing that I'd been looking forward to had been taken away as well. I remember the night it happened. I got drunk then went on some Christian forum to tell them all that God couldn't be real, since I'd suffered such arbitrary bad luck. I was a teenager. We've all had our moments.
The next morning, when I'd calmed down, I rang Sony and they arranged a replacement. It arrived the same day as my GTA IV pre-order and I couldn't have been happier. That's how my history with this console started. Since then I've aged seven years, graduated university, moved houses, met people, had relationships, worked myriad jobs, done this, done that, etc.
A bunch of PS3 games on a bed, obviously (name them all and win absolutely nothing)
But tying personal experience to a game console, even one I've owned for such a long time, feels affected and strange – the PlayStation 3 has always been sat in the corner of the room, and there have been times where indulging in a game has helped take my mind off things in reality, but that's hardly enough to call it personally important. If I tried to explain how the PS3 has helped me through tough times or changed my perspective in any significant way I'd end up straining and using purple language. I mention the time I was an angry teenager only to juxtapose my feelings today – in the time I've owned Sony's third console, my relationship to both it and video games has become much less impassioned. I've gotten older, smarter, more mature. Video games have not. Seven years since I got the replacement PS3 I can safely say that I'll never again be sad about not getting to play a Grand Theft Auto game on its day of release.
I think back to the first times I played BioShock, Half-Life 2, Fallout 3, Assassin's Creed and dozens of others, and they were all on the PlayStation 3, and I was roundly enthusiastic. I think then of the last times I played those games, the conversations I have about them nowadays with friends and critics, and the things I've grown to loathe about video games and the things I wish they did more often.
What I loved when I first got the PS3 is what I dislike, or at least mitigate my praise for, today. BioShock is okay but it's posturing and nihilistic. Half-Life 2 gets talked about as this and that but it's a game where you play a mute avatar shooting aliens and zombies. The Fallout games are sycophantic to the player and full of sandbox junk. The Assassin's Creed series is the same. It's not that in the time of the PlayStation 3 I've become less interested in games or somehow wizened and jaded – since it was the games I played on the PS3 that made me want to do this job, I could hardly say it made me into a cynic. But the fandom has gone.
If I'll never love another console like I love the PS3, it's because in the time that I've owned it and through the games I've played on it, I've learned to stop cheerleading – to be, rather than an enthusiast or a Gamer, a critic. Playing games for the past seven years has been a learning experience. I'm richer for it, but it's taught me what to doubt and what to avoid. Looking back across the PlayStation 3 now, I feel like I'm stepping off a plane after an unpleasant journey: "I'll never fly with that airline again."
Of course, there have been moments. I think it's a terrible game, but I remember having genuine tears in my eyes during the opening reveal of BioShock Infinite. I first played Far Cry 2, one of the best games that I know of, on the PlayStation 3, as well as The Last of Us, which has a lot of noble intentions, as do L.A. Noire and Driver: San Francisco. Even if the ultimate feeling I have is that games haven't developed much, that they're still childish, dull and illiterate, increasingly so as I get older, the PlayStation 3 was still the centre point of a fascinating period.
'Grand Theft Auto IV' is one of the biggest-selling PS3 titles, but its sequel, 'GTA V', is the system's most-popular game.
I've said it before: games are a weird cultural grotesque. They're enjoyed by so many people and make such an ungodly amount of money, yet they're deeply insecure. The press and publicity around them is constant and febrile, yet they're immune to most standards of representation and intelligence – watched and commented on by so many, they nevertheless get away with the dumbest, most sexist, most racist rubbish year on year. This phenomena existed before I bought a PS3, but it's only since then that I've noticed it. I think I could pluck pretty much anything from the console's catalogue of games and find something relating to the many bizarre, awful things that video games are. For that, I consider it worthwhile.
And when the PS3 I got in 2008 finally burned out at the start of this month, I went straight out and bought a replacement. That tells me two things. First, these things are just products and no matter how long you've had the same one, you can just chuck it out and get another. Second, there's a lot here worth playing – and a great deal still to learn.
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