More and more often gaming systems are striving to be multimedia platforms. Is this really for the best though?
You've more than likely seen the ads or heard the boast: "The PS3: it only does everything!". It's meant to be a selling point, showing that you've bought more than a game console, you've bought something that you can browse the internet, play games online, watch Blu Ray movies on, and much more. The PS3 isn't alone in this category either; just about all the current generation gaming systems whether they be console or handheld seem to be striving to become more and more than the basic Game Boys and Nintendo Entertainment Systems of old.
The thing is though that to me at least it seems like more of a mixed bag than anything else. And to whip out an old tired meme at this point, I have to stand up and utter the following: "I didn't ask for this."
I know that there's a very solid line of reasoning behind why consoles and handhelds alike are branching out and becoming more than "just game systems". They both face fiercer competition than ever before thanks to computers (although of course there has been competition on that front for quite some time) handhelds though have come under what I perceive as a much greater and more immediate threat in recent years with the advent of tablet PCs and smartphones. People are less willing than ever before to carry around a multitude of devices when one can get the job done just as easily, and gaming on devices is no exception. There's just less and less incentive these days to cart around a 3DS or PSVita when Angry Birds on your iPhone or iPad is just as entertaining in terms of what you're looking for in portable gaming. And hey, if it's not then it's not like there aren't literally thousands of other cheap or even free games that can pretty much fill any niche you're looking for.
The utility of the competition seems to be the greatest threat to gaming systems, but no matter how I look at it and regardless of what I look at, whether it be PSN, Xbox Live, the Wii Channels, the recently released Swapnote for the 3DS, the availability of social networking apps on the PSVita; all of them seem like clumsy, half-hearted attempts to turn a gaming system into something more when it doesn't need to be.
I'm not saying that these services are useless. Of course any online component needs to be fleshed out enough to make finding friends and engaging in multiplayer online a painless experience. But do we really need things like little avatars of ourselves in services like Playstation Home, or the Miis, and Xbox Avatars? Do we even need stuff like Playstation Home? Sure it offers access to things like pre-order bonuses and free games, but both of those could be offered through a much simpler and more straightforward interface choice.
Personally I think that this expansionist thrust isn't proving to be turning the tide or convincing people to put down the keyboard and mouse or tablet PC. If anything it seems like such measures often end up pulling companies in too many different directions when what they should be focusing on is just making sure that a gaming machine has some damn good titles to play on it.
A console is never going to be capable of doing everything that a PC does, and I'd certainly say never as well as a PC can do it either. That's not the point. The point when you turn on a console or a handheld should be that you want to play a damn good game on it, not check your email or IM your friends. Perhaps that's just the old bastard in me talking, but it's honestly what I believe.