I get a lot of email. Most of
it is pretty nice, a lot of it asks questions, and some of it tells me I have my head in
my ass and wouldnt know a videogame from a hole in the ground, which I might also
mistake for my ass. Its okay I welcome all of it because Im not really
about making people like me, per se, but informing people about videogames. I try to do a
reasonably objective and thorough job of it, but reviewing is all about the opinion, and
not everyone is going to agree. Thats fine. One thing that people, a lot of people
ranging from readers to fellow game critics, often tell me is how evil Microsoft and the
Xbox are. In fact, its become a bit ridiculous how vogue it is to criticize the
infamous Bill Gates and company.
I remember back in the bad old days, before the anti-trust suit, when Gates was reviled
mainly by disgruntled IT employees and more avid computer users. Its easy to see
where this comes from if most of the people have one piece of software to use, then
they will inevitably blame and resent the manufacturers when said software operates
poorly. Since Microsoft is such an all-encompassing force in our world, it also provides a
cultural touchstone, sort of like how "everybody" hates their boss or doing
Things didnt get any better for Gates when the government started all this
anti-trust legislation. In fact, people are extremely conflicted about this issue, and
most just havent really paid attention. On the one hand, some of Microsofts
business policies were at the least unethical and at the most illegal, but the company was
nevertheless accused of much greater harm. Interest in the case was undoubtedly fueled by
the undercurrent of MS-hating, and that undercurrent has become the hip thing. Its
rebellious and connective at the same time. Macintosh users "Think Different" by
purchasing hardware from a company owned in large part by Gates, and moreover they commit
to purchasing an even smaller variety of often more expensive software and hardware, much
of which is supplied by the same company they bought their computer from, often in a
partnership with Microsoft. Did everybody forget about the cover of Time that
showed Steve Jobs and featured a quote from him thanking Gates for bailing out the
company? And how rebellious is it to complain about Microsoft or Windows? Most folks still
run the dominant operating system, and most folks complain about it. It is not unique to
bash Gates and his empire.
What is sad is that this thinking has permeated the gaming world, and many gamers are
against the Xbox simply because they dislike Microsoft and Bill Gates. Certainly it is
your right to support or not support any company or person youd like, and Im
not arguing against that right. But the myopic criticisms of the system and games based on
ad hominem arguments about Bill Gates are frustrating, especially when much of this
reasoning is put into the service of another megacorporation that could be equally
Who made your CD player? What about your VCR, television, Walkman, mini disc
player, DVD player, receiver, tuner, car stereo, computer, monitor, or speakers? Who puts
out music by artists like Kid Rock, Macy Gray, Korn, NKOTB, Rage Against the Machine,
Rehab, Bruce Springsteen, Tenacious D, Wu Tang Clan, and Tammy Wynette? Who puts out
movies like Dr. Strangelove, Gattaca, Monty Pythons Holy Grail, Matilda, City of
Lost Children, and a whole lot more? Now, who makes your PlayStation as well as many
games to play on it? Sony. The company has arms that extend into almost every aspect of
our lives, and in many more areas than Microsoft. I didnt even mention their theater
and cable interests or their online ventures.
Furthermore, who has Sony partnered with to bring the PlayStation online? AOL
Time-Warner, the absolutely huge multinational media conglomerate which brings television
stations like HBO, TNN, TNT, CNN, and Cartoon Network together with magazines like Time,
People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Entertainment Weekly, TransWorld Skateboarding,
Sunset, Field & Stream, Popular Science and a whole armload of others. Add to all of
that stuff the online ventures of AOL and Netscape, coupled with some of the largest cable
providers and some local television stations for good measure, and youre talking
about a corporation that we all interact with on a daily basis. In fact, we probably
interact with a product of Sony, AOL Time-Warner, or their many subsidiary companies more
times than your Windows desktop crashes in a day.
And if you want rumors of ruthless business, those are out there, too. Microsoft
mandated a whole lot of Windows installs, engaging in some shady dealings while doing it.
Sony mandated how many PlayStation 2 games publishers had to ship to retail. They also
mandated how much shelf space stores like K-Mart had to allocate to PlayStation 2 units.
In the end, shipments of the PS2 were much smaller than planned, but the space and games
were there to support it. Sonys fight against emulator developer, bleem!, is also
well-documented, for those who want to add some muscle-flexing lawsuits against much
smaller companies into the mix. While rumors of Xbox crashes may or may not be true (some
screens captured from crashed development kits are floating around the Web), the reality
of PS2s not loading games for absolutely no reason is evident at the local videogame store
where they have heard from numerous irate customers. Inevitably, all companies are going
to ship some defective product.
The point to all of this is not to kick dirt on Sony, and its not to prop up
Microsoft or Bill Gates. I only ask that you be reasonable. Dont like Bill Gates?
Fine, but that doesnt make you cool. Dont like the Xbox? Fine, too, but
dont hate it because of the company that made it. Microsoft is not, contrary to
popular belief, a hive of Bill Gates clones. It is a company made up of many, many
individuals, most of whom take pride in and get great satisfaction from doing their job
well. The Xbox is a product conceived of and developed by employees of Microsoft like J.
Allard and Seamus Blackley, not big, bad Bill. Give the Xbox a fair shake. Any gaming
system you buy is manufactured by a huge corporation, and that huge corporation carries
the same kind of baggage regardless of who it is.
If you like the PS2 better, like it because you can play all your old games on it or
because it has more titles that YOU like coming out. Like it because it has that verve, or
that je ne sais quoi that just appeals to you. Like it because you really dig faux
heatsinks. Like it because you hate acid green. Enjoy games, regardless of what platform
they come on, and were all guaranteed to have more games. But for the sake of reason
and sanity, dont bash the Xbox because you dont like Bill Gates. The guy
doesnt come with it. You dont have to shake his hand or sign a contract to get
a system, and thank goodness. That would bring up a whole other issue.