The Quick and Easy Gaming Path

A few months back, I bought an Xbox, fired it up, and promptly began blasting my way through the excellent first person shooter Halo. I beat the game on its “average” level, and began working my way through the next most difficult one. It’s certainly living up to its rating, and after having been stymied a few times, I decided it was time to branch out to another title that I’ve been eyeing: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Reviewers have raved about the game, which is a role-playing oriented adventure set several thousand years before the rise of the Empire in the classic Star Wars trilogy. It’s been praised both for its deep storyline and for allowing players to follow both Light and Dark Side paths.

I was sitting there on the couch blasting away at Sith Troopers, I caught glimpse of the box for Neverwinter Nights Gold Edition. And a strictly non-Star Wars thought struck me as a launched another volley at the foul Sith: this is how gaming should be.

I bought Neverwinter Nights several months ago, mostly because it was very cheap — the first game plus its first expansion for $40. But I’ve had nothing but trouble with it — it consistently crashed on both Windows XP laptops I tried it on, though it did run after installing the latest patches and tweaking the game settings. All in all, it took an hour of tinkering over two days to get the game to run.

Compare this to my Xbox experience: I bought Knights of the Old Republic this morning, got it home, unwrapped it, stuck it in my Xbox and was playing it within a minute of its initial load (it would have been sooner if I hadn’t stopped to watch the game’s trailer).

The later experience is exactly why I’ve just about given up playing games on my Windows PCs. As a geek dad, I’d much rather spend my free time playing games than trying to puzzle through the cryptic morass that is Windows. I want my games to work out of the box, without any tweaking, patching, or upgrading on my part. I don’t think this is acting too much, and indeed, I think this is the way that games should work.

Admittedly, this is the quick and easy path. I do not contest the fact that your very best gaming experience is still on a Windows PC, and I do agree that a keyboard and mouse is the best combination for first-person shooters. But all those mind blowing visuals and speed-of-light twitching comes with a price — namely expensive system upgrades every two to three years, near-constant updating of drivers and hardware, and a Batcave-like hideaway where the games can be played. It’s a price I really can’t afford.

It is somewhat ironic that I am fleeing the Windows driver quagmire and taking refuge with another Microsoft product, but I’ve got to give credit where credit is due: Xbox gets gaming right. It’s fast. It’s easy. And while you can download game updates (via Xbox Live) they aren’t necessary to run the game. It just works.

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