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PS3 or XBox 360? Old gamer gets a console... Or two...

It started about a year ago.

I was getting a little frustrated with the gigantic stack of electronics in my media room. I had one box for streaming content from my computer, another box for playing BluRays, another one for cable, and since the TV and BluRay player were built about 15 minutes before everything started streaming Netflix, I was out of luck in that department completely. It also didn’t help that I had run out of HDMI inputs, so I was using (gasp) ANALOG cables for some of these highly digital, HD devices. Yuck!

So after doing a little reading and Googling, I decided to go ahead and pick up a PS3, purely as a media distribution device. I figured that with that one box, I could consolidate about 3 remote controls into one, pick up some added functionality, and it might even look a little better. I wasn’t even thinking I’d get into games.

Sony Playstation 3 Slim

Sony Playstation 3 Slim

I mean, sure, I’ve had some serious interactions with various PC games over the years. WAAAAAYYY back in the day, I was seriously into my Atari Video Computer System (which is what the 2600 was called at first). The first time I rolled the score over in Space Invaders was a very big day for me. In middle school, birthdays, Christmas, and saving up my allowance was always about Infocom text adventures. In college, I got seriously into Wing Commander, and spent a a few all-nighters with various incarnations of Command and Conquer. The next dalliance was with the original DOOM, the iconic first person shooter, which absolutely blew my mind. There was a week or so with Diablo, which was when I realized that computer games, coupled with my obsessive nature could lead to some pretty seriously antisocial behavior (In this case, I should point out, “Antisocial Behavior” means ignoring people around me, not building bombs in the basement).

So I swore off PC games. I also swore off Windows, which really helped as well.

I also had some not-so-great memories of an old roommate’s first-generation Sega console. He loved the thing, and spent hours at a time parked on the living room floor, a steadily growing riverbank of Taco Bell wrappers surrounding him as he stared at various incarnations of Mario, or fired off a three pointer over a highly pixelated version of Hakeem Olajuwon (yes, that long ago). I remember that the controller only had buttons on it, and I really had a hard time figuring out what button did what, and I was even more hampered by the fact that there were more buttons than I had thumbs, so I did a lot of missing, and drew a lot of “What are you doing?” comments. I assumed at the time that I had just plain outgrown my ability to play video games…

So I had, I figured, two very good reasons to believe that I could buy a Playstation 3, and successfully use it solely as a media device…

I’ll stop for a second while you get all the chuckling out of your system.

So I headed out to Best Buy. Of course the Move Bundle was the really good deal, (won’t the kid think that playing Frisbee Golf with the move will be cool!), and if there’s anything I’ve learned about buying technology, it’s that you ALWAYS get the biggest hard disk available… So I came home with a big box, and went about setting it up.

I will be skipping the epic saga of the total failure of the PS3 to act as a streaming hub, as that is another story altogether. Suffice to say that the slogan “It just does everything” either depends on a very specific set of tasks that constitute “everything”, or it’s missing some words… I’ll leave it there.

For reasons I still don’t quite understand, I decided to head out to the nearest mall, where I had heard there was some sort of video game store. Turns out my old college hangout, Electronics Boutique had returned in a new incarnation, Gamestop. My memories of shirt-and-tie clad sales associates were replaced by visions of teenagers who looked like they may have stopped by the skate park on the way to work. Back at the old EB, there was at least a small token section for “productivity” software. You know, word processors, spreadsheets, that kind of thing. Here was a whole store, packed with games, games, and more games. There was a tiny section for PC games, but nothing at all that even pretended it wasn’t just for fun. I had to appreciate the new honesty, that the store was there to sell games to kids, rather than masquerade as anything remotely serious. Of course, even back in the 1990’s, it’s not like the CEO would pop in to EB to get the new version of dBase or whatever, but it did seem they were trying to keep up appearances.

After a few minutes, I was approached by a young, slightly overweight woman wearing glasses and a fairly normal case of acne for someone just out of high school. If you had asked me to describe what came to mind at the phrase “Gamer Chick”, she was it. Okay, I probably would have put her in the hoodie that I am now quite certain was hanging on a hook in the back room of the store, but I could see that she really liked her job. A few minutes later, I found myself walking out of the store with used copies of Uncharted and Uncharted 2, as well as a year membership to Gamestop’s reward program, and the magazine that comes with it. Okay, now I was hooked.

For the next several months, I sat slack-jawed in amazement at the worlds and imagination expressed through the medium of console gaming. The Uncharted series that I started with brought back the excitement I felt as a kid, watching the Indiana Jones movies, only this time I got to participate. Red Dead Redemption showed a depth of storytelling and character development that is rivaled only in the most introspective of films in the same genre, on the order of Clint Eastwood’s classic Unforgiven (some of the political shading in RDR actually had me wondering if I was in full agreement. A philosophical difference of abstract ideas is not something I would have expected from a gaming experience!).

By summer, with my next birthday rapidly approaching, I found myself in an interesting quandary: The PS3 was great, although some of my favorite games had some serious bugs on Sony’s console. There were also some very intriguing games that were exclusive to Microsoft’s Xbox 360. By far the majority of my gaming friends were 360 users. I was also growing disappointed and annoyed with the way Sony was dealing with its community of users.

Microsoft's Xbox 360

The Microsoft Xbox 360 slim

I was thinking seriously about adding a 360 to my media shelf.

What actually got me over the edge was the simple math problem that the cost of buying a 360 AND a Ps3 was actually less than the cost of building a single PC, which I have done every couple of years for a very long time. Add to this some nice bundles and interest-free financing, and it turned out to be a pretty easy choice. So I brought home a 360 with a Kinnect sensor, and a handful of games that were on sale, including Halo: Reach, and the original Mass Effect (which was a 360 exclusive).

That was almost six months ago.

So how are the two consoles stacking up? That will be the subject of the next part of this series, in which I will discuss such topics as build quality, graphics, speed, game issues, and any special concerns that may apply to gamers with family responsibilities.

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