2013: A Year in Review

This idea came to me the other day while in the shower (like all of the best ideas). I should have recapped all of the things that I wrote in 2013 in one post. It’s a bit late to do so, but I figure it can’t hurt to post a few links to the things that I’ve written about and reviewed last year.

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A Plea for Penis – Striving for Realism and Maturity in Games

Nudity in video games has been a mostly one sided affair – with the amount of visible female anatomy far outweighing that of men. Video games have featured women completely nude, breasts and groins exposed. Similarly to the movie industry, men – pardon the pun – get the shaft and rarely have their parts visible on-screen even during nude scenes within mature-rated content.

The absence of male nudity within games is ignorant, dismissive of a variety of demographics, and in some cases, nonsensical. A variety of scenarios across a breadth of genres have equal opportunity for tasteful and non-sexual nudity – as a means to show maturity within the medium.

There is an issue of inequality present. Publishers believe that the targeted male demographic can only handle seeing women exposed in video games. Bare penises in video games are few and far between. I’m not talking about the occasional suggestive joke image or dildo. Nor am I calling for more sexually explicit games with on-screen sexual activity. Logistically, we should be seeing far more male nudity than the game industry is willing to show us. Penises can be a vital storytelling tool to evoke an emotion out of the player – whether that be fear, comedy, or simply displaying a fact-of-life situation within a sophisticated narrative. But there is still a hesitation: a lack of contextual male nudity in popular media, especially in video games.

Let’s start with my favorite genre; horror. Consider this scenario: an evil corporation has transformed human beings into terrible, disgusting monsters. The mutations have ravaged their forms and the need for clothing no longer applies. All body parts are intact, but transformed. However, there is a distinct lack of monster dong.

Let’s look at this image of Resident Evil’s Tyrant. Its arms, legs, and body have increased in mass, and its skin a dull gray tone. The Tyrant is completely naked, but upon examination of its lower region, no trace of genitalia can be found. Sure, we can say that it was removed during experimentation, but where is the visible markings of removal? Resident Evil Remake has brilliant texture work, so any intent to suggest that the Tyrant had genitals prior to experimentation is not apparent. The Tyrant was simply designed to disregard this aspect of basic human anatomy. But why? Did Capcom’s designers fear that the inclusion of male genitalia, or even a slight suggestive mark, would make players more uncomfortable than gore and death? Apparently so.

Who took it?!

Looking at a Naked Zombie, also in Resident Evil Remake, there is a distinct lack of markings where the family jewels should be. As with the Tyrant, it’s as if someone simply airbrushed or covered the area with flat skin, removing any detail or suggestion that parts are missing. Code Veronica’s Naked Zombies actually had visible damage to their genital areas, which didn’t imply that the designers were afraid to acknowledge the existence of male parts, but merely had a lack of a desire to include them. The PS1 era Resident Evil titles wouldn’t have been able to render these parts if they wanted to.

If this matter is strictly due to the potential discomfort of players, then why wouldn’t a horror game make use of something so simple within the design of a nude male creature? Frictional Games’ 2007 episodic title Penumbra features a monster type called the “Tuurngait Infected”. Tuurngaits are naked, zombie-like creatures with mutilated genitals. This phallic and tubular body part that connects its stomach to its groin is the Tuurngait’s most striking feature. Had the monster not been equipped with such a strange-looking willy, its scare factor would have significantly been reduced.

Nudity makes most people feel uncomfortable. It’s socially unacceptable to go out completely nude in public. Being nude somewhat creates a feeling of vulnerability. Being confronted by a creature or person that disregards the social taboo to nudity and the feelings of vulnerability it creates, is frightening. When it comes to monster designs that are derivative of the human form, the more anatomically correct the creature is, the more discomfort it creates for players.

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Seen above is an image of the two brothers in Red Barrel Games’ Outlast. These two men are not creatures, but simply homicidal maniacs that lack clothing. The two brothers have a calm but threatening demeanor. Their disregard for the faux pas of public nudity further exemplifies the harsh conditions of the chaotic environment in which they reside – and their troubling mental states. Their exposed winkies have a far deeper connotation than simply being obscene.

The depiction of Lucifer’s oversized penis is meant to symbolize his pride (Dante’s Inferno)
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Penises don’t have to be scary, as much as some publishers and developers believe they are. They’re simply a part of the male body. If game creators want to strive for mature, contextual, and non-nonchalant displays of nudity in their games, they’re going to have to realize that the depiction of male genitalia won’t literally burn the eyes of immature and insecure adult gamers – clearly breasts and lady-groins haven’t produced those results.

Stubbs’ stub
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Let’s look at a few games that have featured male nudity in a light of a non-sexual nature. One of the most universally recognized examples would be in Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and the Damned. In a meeting with Congressman Thomas Stubbs, protagonist Johnny Klebbitz (and players) get an eyeful of flaccid man-meat after several intentional close-camera shots. Rockstar intentionally danced around the showing of a penis in a video game as if proudly boasting that they were brave enough to do so – expecting players to drop their guard at the possibility of ever seeing a penis so clearly in their game.

I have yet to play Grand Theft Auto V, but I’m told that male and female nudity is in no short abundance. GTA Online players have the choice to run around without pants. It may be crass and humorous to some hoping to be edgy, but Rockstar’s inclusion of a natural element of the human body shows progressive and mature thinking – whether or not it’s used as a comedic tool by players.

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Rust, a recently released Steam Early Access title by the creator of Garry’s Mod is a game about survival in a post-apocalyptic world. Rust features a whole lot of male nudity as all player-controlled characters in Rust start out as naked, bald men. Rust is not trying to say anything or be groundbreaking with its inclusion of nudity; it merely presents the naked male form as a fact of life. In context of a survival game where hypothermia and radiation exposure are constant threats, nudity and all of the vulnerabilities and handicaps associated with it, exist to accentuate the realistic concerns that one would have while living in harsh conditions.

The Metal Gear Solid series is no stranger to acknowledging the frank and beans found between a man’s legs. Countless times throughout the series attention to a man’s parts have been used to bring comedic value to a scene – or even a means to confirm someone’s identity. I’m sure we all remember Raiden’s nude adventure at the climax of Metal Gear Solid 2, right? Comedic situations such as this can be found in a few older games as well.

In the past, during the arcade and pixel graphic days, some games humorously showed nude males and their pixel-by-pixel length wangs and/or butts. Rampage, which starred two men and a woman as playable monsters, would revert its mutant characters back into human form if they incurred enough damage to their health. The original Rampage had its characters cover up their special parts and nervously walk off screen. In Rampage: World Tour, graphical improvements gave developer Game Refuge Inc the raw technical power to render tiny pixel penises for their naked characters. River City Ransom featured a spa scene where the main character’s butt was exposed. But where there’s one semi-nude video game guy, there’s 100 times more instances of exposed women.

Practical “Armor”

Women have been subjected to objectified female video game characters for decades. A scantily clad warrior with impractical armor, the damsels in distress, etc. The fact that when we do see some skin in games, it’s mostly female characters retreading the same lazy and offensive path. Women are marginalized and ignored when it comes to the dominant demographic that most games cater to. Who’s to say that women don’t want to see some skin as well? I’m not asking for reverse objectification, mind you, but an effort to make the playing field equal. Games are largely designed to cater to a male hetero-normative demographic, despite reports stating that women make up 45% of gamers [Sales, Demographic and Usage Data, ESA]

In contrast to other countries (especially European ones), American sensibilities are still prudish – we’re a culture that’s far more supportive of violence in media than acknowledgment of human sexual nature. Murder, gore, and violence in gaming is less appalling – less challenged by consumers, than a female protagonist having a love interest, or optional gay character relationships, or something as simple as seeing a fake penis.

“Wah, I’m insecure about seeing sexual content I don’t identify with!”

For the medium to grow and to be all-inclusive, we must drop the stigma of male nudity within games. If a game developer sets out to feature nude women for titillating reasons, all the while purposefully ignoring their male characters, they’re not only perverting and abusing an artistic medium in hopes to appeal to a perceived male-only demographic, they’re promoting a double standard. A standard that considers their male demographic immature, perverse, and moronic – while showcasing their own aversion and fears towards male nudity.

Brothers, sisters, let us embrace the video game penis for all that it stands for: growth, inclusiveness, acceptance, and equality!

Note: the images are censored so the article can be safe for work. The uncensored versions are one click away!

My Top 5 GOTY games

So, like all the cool kids have done, I too have written my own GOTY list. There are five games listed in no particular order, and you may or may not agree with them. Check ’em out!

The Stanley Parable

The Stanley Parable snuck up on me and impressed me more than I could have imagined. I had never heard of the original mod, nor the hype prior to the release of the standalone version, but once I saw how people reacted to this game, I had to try it. I launched the game, not knowing what to expect, because a lot reviewers avoided spoiling the magic (much to my appreciation), and I became transfixed and highly amused by what I was seeing and hearing. The only way a person can recommend this game without spoiling it is saying that, “you should just play it as soon as possible”. So go do that, and also read my Honorable Mention in Horror article about The Stanley Parable, on Rely On Horror.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

It’s not often that I find myself so in love with a game that I replay it numerous times back-to-back. Before I did so with MGR, I played through DmC: Devil May Cry about two to three times. Before that, I powered through several replays of Silent Hill Downpour. Before that…I don’t remember a time when I could muster up the drive to do so, outside of my childhood.

My first playthrough of Metal Gear Rising was a tad disappointing. It wasn’t that I was hoping it would be more like MGS or even have some proper stealth elements, but I just didn’t get into it. Perhaps, this was because of how I was playing the game – stepping right off of DmC, I probably jumped into it seeking high number combos and flashy moves. I beat the game, loved the last fight (despite it being pretty difficult), and then replayed it. I then replayed it again. And Again. And again.

Once I understood the game wanted me to play with Zandatsu in mind – eliminating enemies through my cuts rather than my combos – I started to become deeply invested in the game’s combat system. I finished one difficulty and then moved on to the next. Out of all of my friends, I am the only that can say that I completed the game on Revengeance difficulty. I’m not an expert player at anything, but I think I got damn close with MGR!

As of writing this, I am pumped to replay Metal Gear Rising on PC. I don’t know how many more playthroughs I’ve got in me, or if I’ve lost my ripper skills, but I’m  excited to hear more goofy dialogue feel the satisfaction of turning cyborgs into sashimi.

Outlast

Outlast won’t win any awards for originality within the horror genre. It takes place in an asylum, and it’s got an evil corporation in it; and…the enemies are crazy deformed people that want to hurt you. The game also has got its fair share of gore as well, and there’s a heavy usage of familiar gameplay mechanics. But despite all of this, it’s a hell of a good game. I reviewed Outlast and gave it my very first 10/10 on Rely On Horror.

Outlast takes a bucket full of horror cliches and tropes, freshens them up, throws an extremely polished coat of paint on them, and them confidently thrusts players into its wonderfully realized world of horror. The gameplay is simple but tense. The imagery is not original, but it is expertly designed to produce a foreboding and ominous asylum that is both impressive to look at and terrifying to be in.

DmC: Devil May Cry

I’ll start by getting this out of the way: I’m not a diehard fan of the Devil May Cry series. I’ve purchased and completed each game in the series as they were released since the very first, but I’ve never been extremely invested in the characters or world. I enjoyed the first Devil May Cry as a child – it was somewhat creepy but also very exciting to play. Plus, at the time, a game about shooting and fighting demons was on the top of my “that’s cool!” list.

As I’m sure many others will say, I didn’t like Devil May Cry 2 very much at all. As for DMC3, I loved that game when it released (so much so that I completed in a handful of days), but ended up selling it rather quickly. When DMC4 was announced for the Xbox 360 (the only console I had at the time), I celebrated like many others. But when DMC4 released, I was left disappointed by what I got; I didn’t like Nero, and I didn’t enjoy yet another game in which Dante acted like a reserved cool guy that felt too cool to tell anyone what he was planning (DMC2), and I most certainly did not like the game’s plot.

While the internet went ablaze when the line “My name is Dante” was spoken in the first teaser trailer for Ninja Theory’s reboot, I recall enjoying the trailer’s song and making a comment about how New-Dante looked a bit too much like Hilary Swank. Once I got my hands on the game for review, I fell in love. Ninja Theory’s Enslaved was quite the beautiful and charming game. My only issues with it was that the combat system was a bit simple and unsatisfying. With DmC, they crafted something much, much better. Like Enslaved before it, DmC featured a rich and colorful world and striking level design. The style of the game, heavily influenced by anarchist and rebellious behavior, along with its soundtrack by Combichrist and Noisia, won me over. In fact, I used to play a custom Combichrist playlist while playing DMC4, because the in-game combat track got of my nerves fairly quickly.

DmC‘s combat was deeply enjoyable, and new Dante has pinchable cheeks. Both of these features are among the top reasons why the game was one of my favorites this year. If DmC2 is ever sanctioned by Capcom, no matter how unlikely that scenario seems, I hope for a better story and deeper, more complex characters along with  a slew combat improvements.

The Last of Us

The Last of Us is a fine game to play and witness. With combat that’s as grim as its narrative, it explores mankind’s penchant for violence. It may be yet another “zombie” title about humans being the true monsters, but it handles this theme masterfully.

Naughty Dog has given us a story that’s filled with hope and despair. Hope for a world to return to what it once was: a mask of order and civility that hides what humans are truly capable of when all structure is lost. Hope for a father figure to save the world (or maybe just his).

The Last of Us is a culmination of a quantity of powerful, brilliant, and engaging elements that come together to forma  fantastic piece of interactive storytelling. 

Breaking someone’s skull with a brick is pretty fun, too.

Take This

The first time that I could remember that disgusting feeling of being enveloped by some sort of gray haze – later identified as anxiety induced depression – I was in High School. I don’t recall exactly when I started to feel it, but it was related to a mix of general teenage stress and coming to terms with being attracted to people of my same gender. Teenagers usually stress about discovering who they are, but coming to terms with a sexuality deemed less-than-normal adds a little bit to the punch bowl of confusion and anxiety. While that time was probably my worst experience with depression, it wasn’t my first. I wish I could say that I had received a lot of help from friends or family, but that little trial was one I faced alone.

The feelings which I’ve experienced, as have many, can be described as a shroud of doubt that blankets the mind. Doubt whether things will be OK. Doubt whether you’re normal, can be normal, or ever will be. Anxiety is stress on a finer, damaging, scale; it turns anything and everything into a confusing and overbearing feeling. Once it has its way for long enough, it allows something worse to take hold of your mind.

Anxiety has two forms, and at the risk of making a goofy video game analogy, it’s much like a boss monster; one form goes down and the final, stronger form is revealed. While the first form is weaker, more of a passive threat to my well-being and one that makes me vulnerable to further harm, the second form – depression – is the bigger threat. Depression is something that I’ve faced twice in my life. Despite our battles ending with me as the victor, it’s an ever-present part of my life, always at risk of returning if I lower my mental defenses.

Now, let’s see – while High School was my first encounter with anxiety, which led to depression, my first semester of college was unfortunately my second. In an effort to grow as a person and find some independence, I decided to go away for school. I shipped myself to a school three hours away from home, dorming in a place that I’ve never been to with no one that I knew. As you can expect, it wasn’t especially easy for me to adapt. I am, much to my disadvantage, a bit of a shy person; it’s hard for me to approach people in the quest to become friends. I often hope that new people that I meet will notice this so that they can help me remove that shell – a little coaxing to help me feel comfortable to be myself, and strip away the shyness that’s preventing that.

I didn’t do so well with making great friends at my college, and I don’t blame anyone but myself. This a personal struggle that I’m still working on and I think I’m making an effort to separate myself from it as time moves on. I’m actively striving to feel more comfortable with new people so that my first impression is not a poor and shy one. This is especially important now that I’m off into the professional world. But that’s another topic!

While I was miles away from home and my friends, with the anxiety of school and loneliness slowly opening cracks for depression to seep through, I had one way to escape and keep myself in good spirits: video games. Did you guess right? Of course you did, this is a blog about video games!

The internet quality was poor, but several times a week, myself and few friends from home would gather on Xbox Live and tell jokes, chit-chat, and jump into a few multiplayer games. My favorite game to unwind in was Grand Theft Auto IV. There were no set objectives, just some casual fun in the game’s free mode – where myself and friends would explore a virtual New York City, a somewhat substitute for being away from my home in the real New York City. We’d do such fun things as create home bases and invite other players to try and take us down. Or we would look for new bugs and glitches that could be used to scare people. There were no teams and there was no winning, so forgive me for sometimes playing unfairly! I also developed quite the skill for flying helicopters, which I hear are hard to maneuver for most players.

The friends I played with were not aware of how I was feeling at the time or how our gaming was cathartic for me. They were there for me even though they weren’t aware of it. But don’t congratulate me for getting through depression alone, no one should. It’s a constant, up-hill battle and doing it alone – having no one know how you’re feeling – does nothing positive for you. I learned through experience that keeping these feelings inside for so long only worked against me. Videogames were my escape, but they’re no substitute for seeking help, whether that is from a friend or a professional. If things are feeling bad, seek help from both. Even just a casual chat with a friend can lighten your mood. That’s why when I see friends hurting from the same influence, the same creature, that I have faced multiple times, I reach out. Even if someone refuses to accept my help or my ear, reinforcing that someone cares about him or her takes no time and I do it compulsively, because it’s what I would have wanted in my darkest moments.

Whether you’re reading this as an anxiety or depression sufferer, or someone that cares about someone with either, remember that no one should endure it alone. Reach out, seek help, and feel better. It’s true when they say, “it’s dangerous to go alone”, so don’t do it. 

This blog post was written for TakeThis.org, a wonderful resource for those suffering from mental illness. Anyone can share their stories with the site to inspire and educate others. 

A mention for my Honorable Mentions

Hi there! I just did a small thing on RelyOnHorror.com. It was an Honorable Mention in Horror article for The Stanley Parable. This marks the third one that I’ve done on RoH. On my old site, HellDescent, I even did one for Call of Duty Black Ops’ Zombie mode. Perhaps, I may have done others, but it’s been far too long to remember them.

If you’re wondering what an Honorable Mention in Horror is, it’s a series that examines non-horror games for scary themes and elements. I’m very proud of today’s entry on The Stanley Parable, but I think I’m most proud of my Honorable Mention in Horror for Touch My Katamari; I delve deep on that one! Check them all out below, and tell me how deep-and-stuff I am.

The Stanley Parable

Touch My Katamari

Breakdown

Getting Thoughtful, Alright?

It has been a month since Grand Theft Auto V released on consoles. Millions of copies were sold in a matter of days, making this game the biggest entertainment property to date. As I watch friends and internet communities rant and rave about all of the things Los Santos has to offer, my desire to play the game ever increases. I haven’t purchased GTAV. I haven’t played it at all, actually. Criminal? Surprising? If you spoke to some people they’d say either-or, or both of those things.

I’m just sitting here waiting for the headline “Rockstar Announces GTAV PC…”. I’ve previously written why I’ve opted to favor PC gaming over consoles this gen, so this post won’t focus on why I’m waiting for the PC version of GTAV (those reasons are fairly obvious anyway). Instead, I just wanted to remember and reflect on my experience with the series.

My first Grand Theft Auto game was GTA3. I remember hearing great things about it from friends. I was in elementary school at the time it released (let’s avoid the children playing M rated games debate for now). I don’t recall much about convincing my mom to get this game for me despite news reports at the time – after all, she bought me BloodRayne despite the boxart being so suggestive. What I do recall is picking it up a few months after release from a game store in Harlem called GamePlaza. Gameplaza would shut down and reopen a lot due to what I assumed at the time was breaking so many streedates. Maybe they were just poorly managed. Who knows? Anyway, I went to this store a lot over the years to buy and inquire about new games. My mother and I were both known by the clerk that worked there throughout the week. He had no issue with selling me mature games after a while. What did he care? A kid got to shoot and run over people in a video game. Why deny a child happiness, right?

GTA3 was a delight to my wee-little senses. I never actually beat it due to an extremely difficult mission near the end, but I did play it numerous times and spend countless hours free roaming. There was nothing about Liberty City that looked like New York, but that age I pretended I saw familiar locations anyway. At that time GTA3 was so impressive that it was hard for anyone not to look at it in awe.

Fast forward to October 27, 2002: the day of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’s release. By then I had become much better informed on things happening in the game industry. I anticipated that day feverishly. I remember being antsy in class, itching to leave school and run to the store with my mom. If I recall correctly, a friend of mine got his copy when his mom picked him up from school with the game already in her possession. When I got to the store the familiar clerk had my copy prepped, bagged and waiting to be traded for a cool $49.99 plus tax. He was a nice guy from what I remember. Although, I think it was just because he had the hots for my mom.

Fast forward again to the release of San Andreas and the cycle restarted. I got the game on release and played it to my heart’s content. I remember my friend Jeremy not being allowed to because his mom disapproved of its mature content – I’m sure the Hot Coffee debacle didn’t do the situation any favors, either. We used to play the game when he would come over to my dad’s place or when I was at his’ and his mom wasn’t. My dad didn’t care one bit. Hell, he probably encouraged it; some “boys will be boys” reaction to the media’s “protect the prostitutes and children” shtick.

I really enjoyed San Andreas. From the main character sharing my name (so that I could get the full effect from my success or failings at missions) to the feature rich gameplay and large world, I had an all around good time. My fondest memories from that game have to be the randomized pedestrian aircrafts falling from the skies and landing in the streets. Those were always a fun surprise that gave my imagination a little kick, making me wonder what fictional turn of events led to that NPC crashing his or her plane. Depression? Engine failure? An accident? It’s better not to think of it as an AI shortcoming.

GTA4 released when I was in high school – not exactly at a point worth reminiscing. I wasn’t too impressed by GTA4’s campaign, but its online free mode gave me many hours of fun with friends. While I was a bit homesick and dorming for my first year at college, running around a fictional New York City made me feel a lot better. Playing GTA4 for hours on end and munching on “free” (with tuition) cookies and brownies were definitely the building blocks behind my freshman fifteen (more like thirty).

And this brings us to GTAV. As much as I’m aching to play it, I’ve gotten much better at resisting video game spending. Well, I wouldn’t count those Steam sales because they save me so much money (I think)! It’s so weird seeing all of these people enjoying this massive game and I haven’t even touched it yet. I think I’ve changed as a consumer, as a gamer, and as a person. I used to feel compelled to get games at launch. Now I hardly do it. The last two times were Kingdom Hearts HD (still not finished) and BioShock Infinite (which I regret). Now I just sit back and play a bunch of games that I’ve accumulated on Steam. Finishing them one by one and procrastinating on completing my more colorful games. But you can rest assured that once GTAV hits PC,  I will be picking that up on day-one at retail so I can rub my face on the cover and say “it’s been a while”. Maybe the wait will be worth it? I hear GTA Online, a mode I may end up playing more than the campaign, still needs some work – from the server issues, lost characters, and angry players. I don’t mind hopping in once that’s all been settled.

4 Reasons Why I chose PC Gaming

With the onset of the next console generation, I decided that it was about time that I shift toward the PC as my go-to platform for gaming. Microsoft and Sony’s next-gen consoles have some interesting features that are set to expand the way console gamers play and share their gaming experiences, but their offering has and probably will continue to be outmatched by gaming PCs. Here are a few reasons why I made the leap to PC gaming:

Indie Games: PC lacks many of the restrictions that can hinder independent developers. Whether independently released or by one of the indie-friendly distribution platforms like Steam or Desura, developers benefit from releasing their games PC due to its accessibility. Since any developer can put their games up for download, there’s a large variety of imaginative and unique games out there.

Mods: One of the biggest reasons why I’m personally opting to make PC my primary platform for gaming is due to fan-made content. As with independent developers, a single person or group of people can passionately work on adding new items, features, and even missions into their favorite games. Mods give players new toys to play with in their favorite games, which helps make existing games feel fresh and exciting again: I just found out that I can get armor for my pet rabbit in Skyrim!

Price:  While the entry point to building a rig for PC gaming may be more expensive than buying a console, the eventual savings are well worth the investment. Seasonal and holiday sales from Steam and Amazon alone are enough to help you grow your gaming library at a fraction of the cost of buying console games. Sites like Green Man Gaming and GoG.com are also incredible assets when shopping for games on the cheap. I can’t tell you how quickly it is to fill up a terabyte HDD when so many games appear for $10 or less.

Performance:  The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are no doubt a vast technological leap forward in console hardware, but as consoles they will remain stagnant and non-upgradeable.  Developers will find new ways to squeeze the most performance out of these consoles, but a comparable gaming PC can be upgraded, allowing games to look and perform better than their console counterparts.

Disclaimer: these are simply my opinions. As a life-long console gamer, I simply chose to pursue an alternative platform for gaming – one that gives me the most features and choice in current and upcoming games.

[Reposted from the Sandbox Strat blog]