A Gaming System for Non-Gamers, Too?

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Nov 23, 2005 1:47 PM

I'm not much of a gamer. I still have an original Nintendo sitting next to my TV (complete with "Duck Hunt" and gun), which may actually be old enough to be cool and retro by now. Maybe?

But I'm intrigued by the Xbox 360, mostly because it appears to be the next in a generation of "electronic Swiss Army knives," as the Washington Post calls them. Your Blackberry/PDA makes calls, sends e-mails, and takes photos. Your iPod plays music and video. Now, your Xbox does this:

Broadband subscribers with an Xbox 360 in their homes will have options for free or for-pay access to Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace, where they will be able to download movie trailers, arcade games and demos of the next cutting-edge titles...

The machine also can host video conference calls online and trade files with other computers in the home. Xbox 360 also is designed to exploit the dramatic resolution of high-definition television, and industry watchers are hoping it can spur sales of HDTVs.

That's what I'm talking about. Already, my DVR behaves in so many ways like my computer that I've begun to expect Internet capabilities from it. More than once, I've been trying to place an actor on TV and feel like I should be able to look him up on IMDB without switching from the remote to the mousepad.

Looks like it won't be too, too long before I'll be doing that. The Post's story says the new features have the potential to reach more women:

The fact that the Xbox 360 is being sold as more than a game machine is a risk, "but it's a risk that will likely benefit Microsoft in the long run," said Shannon Cusick, president of the Austin-based Orbis Games LLC, publisher of online games aimed at women.

"This will sound kind of silly, but telling women that they can do all these other things -- play DVDs, play solitaire, play their iPods -- in this game machine is a very good selling point."

Will the new Xbox succeed? The buzz right now is really tremendous, but it will probably take some time to determine whether Microsoft's shift of focus loses them the allegiance of pure gamers or earns them converted consumers.

As for the women question, I haven't been interested in a gaming system since about 1987, so I guess that's a good sign for Xbox. I'm also digging the design and the interchangeable faceplates, like classy woodgrain.

The Post's Style section took a break from bashing Bush-- err, I mean cultural criticism-- to do a really interesting story on the Xbox's designer, who works for Microsoft but is less of a techie than I am. The design is based on this sculpture.

I'm just eagerly awaiting the day when my geeky family can sit around and read blogs together on TV.