Thursday, September 06, 2007

Stops and Starts

My Xbox 360 has packed in. On the face of it this is a minor setback, but in fact is a tragedy of world-ending scope. Well, it isn't, but it's not good.

You see, this is the problem with convergent technology: when you design a console that not only plays games but plays DVDs, stores your music and photos, gives you access to online messaging etc etc it is only a matter of time before people actually start to put all of their digital eggs in one basket. Without my 360 I have no access to film, and this is bad, very bad indeed. Given the 4-6 week turnaround time for repairs since Microsoft gave in to common sense and extended the warranties there is a strong chance that next month's Amazon rentals will be wasted. It's a middle-class emergency.

Convergence, then, is not necessarily a good thing. I agree in principle with Dyack's dream of a single console platform - this would make games cheaper to develop, cheaper to buy and less confusing for casual customers, not to mention forcing lazy developers used to blackmailing hardware makers into bolstering the spec to compensate for shoddy programming to grow up a bit - but the problem with perfect solutions is that when they are made real somebody always manages to screw it up, and screwing up a unified gaming platform could kill the industry and the pastime stone dead. It's easy to tolerate the ludicrously inflated price of the PS3 when you have another choice; it's easy to blow off the stories of the 360's unreliability when you have another choice; it's easy to excuse the less-than-stellar graphical performance of the Wii when you have another choice. The free market makes pros and cons a simple fact, something to be compared and, critically, accepted when choosing a machine. You have a choice, so when you open your wallet and make it you know what you're letting yourself in for. You accept the downside. But what if there wasn't an alternative? What if you had to replace your console every eight months, or had to accept graphics and immersion that you know could be better?

I always knew the 360 had build issues, and accepted the risk - fortunately it's within warranty, so with luck and a following wind Microsoft (who have so far taken two phone calls just to register the problem, the responder to the first having apparently forgotten to progress the issue) will have a new, repaired or refurbed one out to me as soon as they can. That's a disadvantage I'm prepared to accept, and I still don't regret buying it, even if I am now left on tenterhooks to find out what happens in the second half of The Illusionist, not to mention being a tantalising three hours into Bioshock at the time. A unified console would leave me feeling a lot more cheated.

It's been an eventful couple of weeks. On the twenty-sixth of August I completed the first draft of the new novel (not The Writing Class, which is still ongoing, but an as-yet untitled short one about child abuse), a somewhat draining exercise that I am glad is over, at least until I start editing. It lurks at the back of my mind now, demanding resolution... It's something I never wanted to write about, actually, something I have absolutely resisted despite the insistence of some that I simply must - in the end, after several years of percolating the concept, an idea for an actual story came by that fitted into the subject well and I was able to set finger to keyboard. It was never easy or fun, though: I wrote it very quickly, quicker than anything else I've done, but more out of desperation to finish it and put it behind me than artistic fervour.

A few days after completion of the initial draft I became an uncle, which has thrown that whole project into sharper relief. I have no children and no intention of having any, so the issue of child protection has always been an abstract of sorts - I have my own experiences to draw on which I will not discuss here, but that's just me: I don't consider myself someone who needs protecting, not any more, and other people's kids are necessarily an abstract, and none of my business. Suddenly my family includes somebody who does need protecting, who will for some time to come: now the book, as distasteful and upsetting as it was to write, has a purpose beyond itself. It still performs the same function, to make people stop and think about this subject rather than take all their opinions from slavering tabloids, the better to understand where the real risks are and guard their kids from them, to prevent child abuse instead of waiting for it to happen so they can indulge in orgiastic vengeance, sacrificing kids - kids, for fuck's sake - to their own bestial indignation. But now I have something at stake. Now it really matters.

The Fast And The Furious and Gone In Sixty Seconds are both on again this week, tied together by ITV2, films I have over-examined before. While auditioning new running routes (I swear I am going to make it to 5K before Christmas if it kills me) I met two black cats, four magpies and a huge crow while meandering along the Ebury Way cycle route. Today seems a day for looking forward, and back. Happy birthday, Emily Alice Berry. May you be happy and healthy and safe, and may you always stick with Nintendo, whose consoles never seem to go wrong. Besides, they have Pokemon.

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