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Xbox 360 Slim: New Face, Same Generation

The New Xbox 360 shipped to stores today and will be on sale for the low price of $299.

The dramatically simultaneous unveiling and consumer release of the new Xbox 360 Slim was certainly an incendiary way to end this year’s Microsoft E3 conference. The notable upgrades of increased HDD and built-in WiFi come at the same flat price of $299, and everyone at the conference was surely pleased to receive their own 360 Slims on the house. When all of the excitement dies down, however, the public is faced with an important fact: at a time when previous generations were coming to a close, the 360 is here to stay for a good long while.

I remember the upgrade for the Nintendo 64: that little, red-crowned cartridge that plugged into that front compartment on the console (I think it boosted the graphics, perhaps). Remember that nifty DVD remote for the Xbox? Intense stuff, but nothing in comparison with the modifications we see happening to today’s generation: Kinect, Sony Move, and Wii Motion Plus have been used to fine tune what are certainly much greater investments for each company than previous generations, modifications to functionality, interactivity, and accessibility meant to gear up systems that are increasingly expensive to develop and produce so that they can last the long haul. the five-year mark is rapidly passing for the seventh console generation and two of the big three have released newer, smaller models, with Microsoft upping the ante today with increased functionality and new features. Still, these consoles are the same on the inside, where every childhood teacher will tell you that it counts most.

Is it a good thing that generations are becoming more and more lengthy affairs? It certainly allows consumers and developers to stay in their comfort zone with the same technology utilized for longer periods, but does it leave the door open for stagnation as technology parades further and further ahead?

The world is rapidly reaching the point where graphical updates are smaller and subtler. There is no longer the clamoring for tremendous leaps forward in graphical capability, and without this clamor gaming companies are surely feeling less pressure to make the generational leap to big number eight. Meanwhile, the ever-increasing complexity and variety of extensions to the basic console hardware is on the cutting edge of sensory technologies. New generations have been replaced with new features, new controllers that look just like guitars or drums or whatever. We have plenty of things to make us happy in development.

Yet the laws of progress will eventually require a switch to the next generation, and it will be interesting to see what is to be done with all of the extensions, extra hardware, and new controllers that will suddenly become old news. With the extending of generational periods, the producer and the consumer both see an increasing investment in each rung of the ladder. Perhaps console developers will gradualize the transition with cross-applicable features, or perhaps we’ll just keep getting new updates to the original hardware until it is unrecognizable, and that will be our new generation.

It’s sometimes difficult to see where each new generation will innovate, and even moreso with the prolongation and diversification of each console of the current generation. Instead of a simple gaming console and controller, the console of today stresses its role as a comprehensive entertainment system complete with an array of bells and whistles that are continually cycled with the newer and better and catering to an ever wider audience that may not yet be comfortable to the temporal nature of hardware. Mothers seem mystified enough when their children start begging for a new system, I can only imagine a similar adjustment required when they’re upgrading from the Nintendo Wii to the Nintendo Dick or whatever phallic term the Japanese decide on next.

With consoles catering to more than the hardcore or even casual crowd, and the ever-expanding monetary investment seen in today’s generation, it will be interesting to see where the next generation will take us, as well as how the gaming industry is going to get us there.

Raised by a pack of wolves in North Texas suburbia, Derek Sommer has become a consummate writer, gamer, artist, and party fiend. Find him at the nearest whirling epicenter of fun to Lewisville, TX.

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