Obviously I am not at all informed, let alone up to date—granted. But then again this wasn’t really to be expected. Not that I’d have any time for it whatsoever, but nevertheless last Saturday I suddenly decided that it was high time to finally play ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ (GTA 5 | Rockstar 2013 [sort of 2013])—in a minute I’ll come back to why I so suddenly longed for GTA 5. As I like having my games on physical data storage media, neatly arranged on the shelf, I set out towards my regular shop. The game already hit the store-shelves in September 2013, so my hopes were high that I’d get it at a heavy discount. Even triple-A titles like that rapidly drop prizes and currently you can get e.g. ‘Dishonored’ (Arkane Studios 2012), ‘Assasin’s Creed III’ (Ubisoft Montreal 2012a), or ‘Far Cry 3′ (Ubisoft Montreal 2012b) as absolute bargains. Already from just halfways through the shop I could identify the distinctive GTA design on the cover of a dozen or so boxes displayed on the according shelf. When I stood right in front of it I gasped and thought, ‘that I do call a prize-drop!’ as the GTA 5 box said € 5,-. Very much in doubt, and restraining myself from looking if they offered GTA 4 for € 4,-, I picked up the case and read … ‘pre-order box.’ My, my, those marketing- and shop-keeping geniusses these days—displaying pre-order boxes for a game that was released more than a year ago. Toodle-oo … wait a minute, it also says ’27th January,’ but GTA 5 was released in September ’13 … and then it dawned on me. Quickly checking the Wikipedia-entry on my phone confirmed my worsed fears: Back then it was released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and towards the end of January 2015 they will release it for the PC. And there they went, my hopes for getting a triple-A title on a bargain. In January they will charge us PC-gamers the full prize for a game 16 months old. But then again I still am playing ‘Quake Live’ (QL | id Software 2010), which essentially is ‘Quake III Arena’ (Q3A | id Software 1999), a meanwhile 15 years old game.
Inevitably the price for the PC-version of GTA 5 naturally will drop, too—so what? Why then does that bother me at all? Because of two reasons on slightly different but interconnected levels.
First, the universes of especially big, story-driven games are mythical territories in which the members of the gaming scenes collectively partake. (Knorr 2012a, b, c) It’s not only the action and the storyline, but all kinds of artistic content and the atmosphere a game generates which are embraced. This embracing works together with, acts out and adds upon an inner universe—a personal conglomeration of ambiences, sentiments, æsthetics, and narrative content, built from a lifetime of digesting popular culture, and of assimilating its modes of representation into ones own conceptions of life. Titles like those of the GTA-series are among those at the forefront of this, because they are choke-full with allusions and citations. This looms an ever larger associative universe and weaves its fabric tighter and tighter. The tradition of ↵easter eggs, little or bigger things within the gameworld, ↵intentionally hidden there to be discovered by the players is one of these qualities. And here’s the problem. Especially in open-world games exploring is decisive. Exploring the vast game world and then sharing the explorations and experiences with others online. Well, everything in GTA 5 is already found and done—by the console jockeys. The vast number of let’s-play-, stunt-, and easter-egg-videos at YouTube is ample testimony of that. Of course I could ignore everything on GTA 5 at YouTube and the Net in general, but that’s not the way titles like that are played. Just like most of the people do not never talk about movies or TV-series they’ve seen. Quite to the contrary. Talking about movies and learning more about them and their backgrounds from a variety [pun not intended] of sources is an essential dimension of how media are ‘consumed.’ The same is true for computer games and much of the interaction around them naturally happens online. Since September 2013 PC-gamers are shut out from this interaction in respect to GTA 5. Well, now you could say: Why haven’t you bought a console? Which leads me to my second point.
Of course I could’ve bought a console, or all of them. I did not, mainly because I do not like them very much, I prefer the PC. But my personal preferences are not important here—if at all then only a portion of their backgrounds. The PC is an open all-purpose system. Beyond that my main machine was especially built to cope with high-end games. Now, I’ve already got an all-purpose machine which is superior to most other systems when it comes to running games … why should I buy a special-purpose machine which is inferior, too [for the moment I do not take into account specialities like the Wii- or Kinect-technology]? The only reason would be because parts of the industry urge me to do so. E.g. by not publishing certain game titles for PC.
Seven years ago ↵John Romero perfectly expressed what I more or less thought at that time, too:
Next-gen console is big but its future isn’t too bright with the emergence of cheap PC multi-core processors and the big change the PC industry will go through during the next 5 years to accommodate the new multi-core-centric hardware designs. My prediction is that the game console in the vein of the PS3 and XBOX 360 is going to either undergo a massive rethink or go away altogether.
Well, either that massive rethink has taken place or we were both dead wrong. Leaving the rethink aside, what has happened, and what was not taken in consideration at all back then, is the strategy of creating ever more closed systems instead of open ones, and consolidating them by the powers of the market. The blatant example of course is Apple’s closed technological ecosystem iPhone, iPad, iTunes which has begun to swallow their lap- and desktop computers and operating systems, too. Fabulous hardware intentionally crippled. And consoles are closed ecosystems by design. There interpretative flexibility is smaller and creativity dwindles because practices of appropriation like e.g. modding (Knorr 2012c) are made harder. But still there’s the PC. Hell, yes, but if I want to play an A-list title, no matter if I officially downloaded it or bought it on DVD, I have to log on to closed ecosystems like Games for Windows, Uplay, Rockstar Social Club, or whatyouhave. If, and only if, the title is out for PC at all.
Erh … didn’t think that that would develop into such a rant :) There’s way more to it, but I’ll leave it at that for the time being, I think.
ARKANE STUDIOS. 2012. Dishonored [computer game]. Rockville: Bethesda Softworks.
EIDOS MONTREAL AND NIXXES SOFTWARE. 2011. Deus Ex: Human Revolution [computer game]. Shibuya: Square Enix.
ID SOFTWARE. 1999. Quake III Arena [computer game]. Santa Monica: Activision.
ID SOFTWARE. 2010. Quake Live [computer game]. Richardson: id Software.
KNORR, ALEXANDER. 2012a. “Being a god full time: The rewards of game modding,” in Gamebased learning: Clash of realities 2012 edited by Winfred Kaminski and Martin Lorber, pp. 363-373. Munich: Kopaed.
KNORR, ALEXANDER. 2012b. Räume online. Berliner Blätter: Ethnographische und ethnologische Beiträge 60/2012: 80-88.
KNORR, ALEXANDER. 2012c. “Game modding: Die soziokulturelle Aneignung digitaler Spielräume,” in Raum, Zeit, Medienbildung: Untersuchungen zu medialen Veränderungen unseres Verhältnisses zu Raum und Zeit edited by Gerhard Chr. Bukow, Johannes Fromme, and Benjamin Jörissen, pp. 135-153. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
ROCKSTAR NORTH. 2013. Grand Theft Auto V [computer game]. New York City: Rockstar Games.
UBISOFT MONTREAL. 2012a. Assassin’s creed III [computer game]. Montreuil: Ubisoft.
UBISOFT MONTREAL. 2012b. Far Cry 3 [computer game]. Montreuil: Ubisoft.