A thought experiment: It’s a month before the PS3 launch. You live alone, a recluse in deepest Alaska, a land of nothing but snow, grizzly bears and oil or a hermit in the Australian outback, watching kangaroos and vast expanses of nothing all day. You’re so isolated you couldn’t have an Internet connection even if you wanted to.
On your monthly trip into town for supplies you notice a sign announcing the PS3 launch. It triggers a memory of a time before your self-imposed exile, sitting with the original PlayStation and playing Gran Turismo and Crash Bandicoot, Pandemonium and Metal Gear Solid.
A month later you return, picking up a PlayStation 3 and the cheapest TV you can find, never having owned one before. The launch PS3 returns with you to your exile, never to see an internet connection. The firmware’s never updated and you never download anything from the Store. It’s almost as if you’ve got your childhood PlayStation all over again. The question is: can you still enjoy it?
We’ve touched on this in the past, with Blair sharing his experiences while in university halls, the network blocking his access to the PSN. But if you’d never been online could you still have a good experience with your PS3?
This is the situation for a good number of gamers (according to Sony at last year’s E3 about 20% of PS3’s aren’t online), those who’ve never worked out how to connect their PS3 or simply never cared enough. They, presumably, still purchase games, and maybe even play Blu-rays, but that’s it. No Netflix, no online multiplayer, no store or firmware updates (except those forced onto them with certain games).
This sounds oddly pleasing if I’m honest, a simpler existence. Never having to worry about PSN maintenance or a patch appearing as you try to start the game, never opening yourself to the potential abuse that seems to come along with almost any online interaction these days – there’s a lot about it that appeals.
I wouldn’t even miss gaming online with my friends, something that I rarely take part in now anyway. For me gaming is something I like to do by myself most of the time, displaying my lack of skill often feels embarrassing rather than entertaining. There may be some readers, hopefully not too many, who remember the hilarity that ensued when I took part in a Killzone 2 tournament some years ago. My sheer ineptness was mildly entertaining for me too but more often than not I’m content to not show people just how bad I am.
There’s so much I’d miss though. Despite the issues I have with the PSN at times, I’d miss games like LIMBO and Journey, games that would never make it onto a disk (at least here in Europe). It would be near impossible to strike a deal with a publisher to get those kind of games on a disk, but online stores allow them not only to exist but to thrive.
I’d miss PlayStation Plus too, and the sheer value for money that it gives you. I probably wouldn’t have bothered to pick up Just Cause 2 or inFamous, even pre-owned. However, when they come as part of a subscription, a reasonably priced subscription at that, then it seems crazy not to branch out and try something new. I’m incredibly grateful to Sony for PlayStation Plus, and hope they can present a similar service when the PlayStation 4 rolls around.
Even so, to be content in my own company, to not have to worry about entering an online pass for a game or to never feel betrayed by a publisher because they decided that something would be better as DLC than as part of the game would be truly wonderful. Just imagine being happy with a game as it comes in the box, not worrying about whether or not it will connect properly or figuring out how to download whatever extras your special edition came with.
And consider the hermit in our thought experiment, never having known what it’s like to go online with his shiny new console. You wouldn’t miss it because you never had it. If you’d never once been online, if you weren’t even aware of what the PSN had to offer you, would you really feel like part of your PlayStation was missing?
Would games like Uncharted and God of War become any less satisfying because you couldn’t access the online portions? Would the wonders of BioShock’s Rapture or the emotional connections in Heavy Rain be lessened because you couldn’t flip over to Netflix if you so wished? Would even Gran Turismo or MotorStorm feel unfinished without the ability to showcase your skills online, to challenge your friends to cross the finish line first?
My honest answer has to be, surely, no. I don’t feel those games would be any worse if you could never take them online. I even enjoy Call of Duty and Halo without straying online, why should other games be any different?
Maybe I’m living in the past, but I miss that simplicity more than anything in modern gaming. Perhaps I should become the recluse in this thought experiment.
I hear the Alaskan tundra’s nice this time of year…