Here is an embarrassing story about a bad purchase.
When I was 15 or 16, I spent a few summer weeks doing odd jobs in an extended family member’s auto body shop. It wasn’t especially hard or grueling work: paired with another surly teen, I disposed of a mound of twisted and crumpled body-shop scrap, swept floors, organized some stuff, hauled some old car parts to storage, and stood around a lot—the kind of menial shit for which you overpay a relative’s kid so he’ll grow some hair on his chest. At the end of it, I got a couple hundred bucks cash. I’d never had more than a few birthday or Christmas twenties’ worth of dough at one time before in my life. It was like I’d won the damn lottery.
I was an inept and lonely teen, awkward and reflexively standoffish; I wanted to be cool and well-liked, but in the manner of inept teens I believed or hoped to learn that “cool” and “well-liked” were things you accomplished with clothing, rather than by being friendly to other human beings and/or selling marijuana to them. What I am saying here is that the very day after I got paid for the body-shop work, I went to a kiosk at the mall and spent nearly every cent I’d made on a pair of the brand of designer sunglasses the well-off kids had been wearing at the end of the previous school year. Sunglasses. I bought fucking sunglasses.
They were broken by homecoming. Guess how popular I was in the meantime. That was a really bad purchase. My Xbox One was worse.
I have had an Xbox 360 for many years. Or, well, I have been an Xbox 360 owner for many years, but of course I’m on my third one, having had to send two others off for replacement when they red-ringed to death along the way. The current one I’ve had for seven years, and you can tell: It sounds like a goddamn lawnmower when it’s on, and the disk tray doesn’t open on its own anymore—I have to yank the front panel off and jab a paperclip into the works whenever I need to open it. Still, all in all, I am satisfied with my Xbox 360 ownership, and fully intended for it to be the last game console I ever bought. Even now, I crack that fucker open a couple times a week to play one of my handful of games after the kids go to bed, and if I have to set the volume a little higher than ideal to hear the proceedings over the ancient thing’s cranky complaints, well, shit, my right knee gets sore from overuse, too, and I’m still glad to have it.
Pictured: The store where I bought my Xbox 360.
The problem, though, is this: Ever since I had kids, the Xbox 360 got more use as a Pixar DVD player than as a video-game console, and now that the tray doesn’t open at a push of a button, my kids can’t put their own DVDs in, and their grandmother can’t use it to play DVDs when she comes over to babysit. Or anyway, leaving a grandmother with instructions for how to rip the front off of an Xbox 360 and root around in its mechanical guts with a paperclip just to pacify the kids with Finding Nemo seems ridiculous. So when my wife floated the idea that we should get me an Xbox One for Father’s Day this past June, I blanched at the price but could see the appeal of it. The thinking was, it’d be like getting a newer, fancier Xbox that didn’t sound like Neil Young dropping a guitar down a flight of stairs for me, plus a functioning DVD player for all our enjoyment. And, like, apps and shit! It has apps out the ass.
So we all trooped down to the game store together, the herb brigade, wayyyy too enthusiastic, and bought an Xbox One. The place had a deal where if you bought a console and two games you could get a third game for free; I got The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and a FIFA game for myself, a free Lego Marvel Super Heroes for the kids, and a second controller so they could play together. It was exciting! I’d tried to be skeptical about the whole thing, but it didn’t work.
The first thing that happens after you hook up your Xbox One and turn it on is that you spend like an hour guiding it through updates and calibrations and logins and setups. Among the other things it required me to do was sign in with my Xbox Live account, using login credentials that I have not had to remember since before Barack Obama became president. At one point I thought I had done it, only to discover that all I had actually done was create an entire new login account that was not affiliated with my Xbox Live account at all. Then I had to delete that one, but only after I reset my Xbox Live password so that I could login with my Xbox Live account. This came just when a long update had finally finished; I’d naïvely thought the thing was ready to play. This was the precise moment my enthusiasm for the entire venture began to sour.
Protracted, multi-stage setup hardly is unique to the Xbox One. Hell, my remote control required a chunk of an afternoon for teaching it to speak to the cable box and the TV, and it still gets them confused sometimes. This has become a thing everybody accepts as part of the new technology experience. It’s annoying anyway, and, in the case of the Xbox One, it drags on forever. Once upon a time you could be playing Super Mario Bros. within about three minutes of tearing the wrapping paper off your new NES; the interval from then to now never seems longer than when a brand-new game console tells you it must repair its own software for 40 minutes just to get to the part where it checks to see whether you’re allowed to use all of its features.
Pictured: Updates complete, the author presses A to continue. Photo via Shutterstock.
The thing that gets you through the tedious, interminable setup of your new Xbox One is the promise that on the other side of the process, you will fire up a new game and its awesome graphics will do you like the Maxell guy. I chose The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for the honors, popped the disk in (“Wow, Daddy, it’s so quiet!” my younger son exclaimed), and ... was prompted to install the game. This is a thing you must do in order to play games on your Xbox One. The Xbox 360 did not require this, and neither did the original Xbox, or the Nintendo Wii or Nintendo GameCube or PlayStation 2 or Sega Dreamcast or Nintendo 64 or Super Nintendo or NES or Intellivision. But hey, that probably has to do with the fearsome task of processing the awesome graphics! Interpreting it that way is a choice you make, anyway, to help yourself put up with it and understand this as an indicator of just how fucking boss these games will be. Anyway, you have no choice in the matter. If your Xbox One is to redeem its cost and the ludicrously long setup time by melting your face with rad monster-slaying graphics, you must install the game.
In the meantime, you can multitask by attending to some domestic chores, like smoking a brisket! Just kidding, no, you won’t have time to smoke a brisket, but installing a game takes a long time. When The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt finished its installation, my children were noticeably taller, but also, the Xbox One needed to download and install an update to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt before I could play it. Which, again: This is essentially non-optional if your Xbox One is not to be a complete waste of money, so you accept it. Maybe you even tell your bemused spouse, “Hey, at least I got the game after they patched whatever was wrong with it; the early adopters got the frustration of a busted game plus the annoyance of downloading and installing an update.” Maybe you even find this convincing as you say it!
(Like the lengthy initial setup, this annoyance is commonplace enough nowadays that people don’t even get all that annoyed by it anymore. As often as not, video games are published before they are complete, requiring you to finish their installation over the ensuing weeks and months in the form of software patches. Game developers throw a coat of varnish on this insulting practice by tossing in a few minor new game features along with the patch. This is rather like going out to your vehicle in the morning and finding a dealership mechanic tinkering under the hood, and being expected to feel excited about it. Guess what! You now have the option of swapping some purple headlights in for your regular ones! Oh and also we fixed a defect that caused the AC vents to spray burning gasoline in fourth gear sometimes.)
“Pre-order the Certified Collector’s Edition and you’ll have access to exclusive features, like doors and a steering wheel.” Photo via AP.
By the time my Xbox One had finished installing and updating The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the day was getting away from us. I launched the game to its main menu to make sure it worked, then popped the disk out and switched the thing off.* I’d owned my Xbox One for maybe three hours, it had been powered on for most of that time, and I had logged exactly zero minutes of gaming action on it.
When I came back to it hours later, after the kids went off to bed, I discovered the following two things:
- The left controller joystick was too sensitive to the right; every time I moved it so much as a nanometer in that direction, my game dude would sprint to his right. Meanwhile, he’d only trudge miserably when I tried to make him go left, like it was uphill toward his court-mandated defensive driving course. This would be a thing to investigate and fix the next day.
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is butt. The main guy, Geralt of Rivia (or as a friend calls him, “Geraldo Rivera”), looks utterly ridiculous and talks like the steakfuck Gears of War pinhead’s less charming cousin, all gravel and monotone edge and constipation; I disliked him instantly. The game world looks like a muddy stand of lowland trees between two sides of an interstate; there are rando fantasy monsters just kinda hangin’ out by the side of the road every here and there, and I can’t imagine why anyone would want to go fight them, or do anything else. They’re not even bothering anybody, unlike your boy Geraldo, who is intolerable. I’d make Geraldo ride past them to the next ugly place full of uninteresting assholes, then wonder why I’d bothered. Less than an hour in, my actual life started to seem like a fantastical escape from the Northern Kingdoms; I left and have not returned.
*Here is something silly. Your Xbox One comes with two power settings: One in which turning it off, y’know, turns it off, and one in which turning it off does not turn it off, but leaves it on, so that you can turn it back “on” by telling it to turn on, out loud, with your voice. In true Orwellian fashion, Microsoft has doublespeaked this pair of choices into seeming like an innovation toward responsibility, rather than away from it: The setting in which turning the Xbox One off turns it off is called “Energy-Saving Mode,” rather than, y’know, “Off”—as though a setting in which a device that has been turned off is off is a special way to “save” energy. Oh, I am glad Microsoft has responsibly included a special energy-saving mode, you think, as though “off” meaning “off” were a novel concept—but really the mode that is a newly invented departure from the default is the other one, the one that enables your Xbox One to consume roughly as much energy as a ceiling fan even when you are not using it. That one is not called “Energy-Wasting Mode,” but rather “Instant On Mode.” Its purpose, so far as I can tell, is to enable you to feel like friggin’ Ed Begley Jr. for not using it.
The Xbox One unveiled a new feature when I turned it on a day later: Suddenly, for no evident reason, its disk drive would not read disks anymore. Googling the problem revealed that it’s a fairly common one. One gamer suggested that if you hold onto the disk when the drive first tries to grab it, like playing tug-of-war with it for a second or two, and do this every time you insert a disk forever, it would read disks sometimes, presumably in grudging recognition of your ability to deny it food, but it did not. Another recommended just straight up whacking the shit out of this $350 contraption every time it failed to read a disk; he even had a video to prove that it worked. This was tempting, I must say!
“Now, once you have positioned your Xbox One console on a flat surface ...”
I took my Xbox One back to the store. I’d owned it for less than 24 hours, and used it as a game console for less than an hour. When I told the guy at the store what was wrong with it he reacted like I’d told him I had a second face on my ass, but he replaced it anyway. “Keep the box,” he said. “And the receipt.”
The replacement Xbox One required a rerun of all the setup procedure, but this time I knew my Xbox Live credentials, saving a few minutes. The disk drive worked! I installed (and updated!) the Lego Marvel Super Heroes game this time, so my kids could test-drive it, but something was wrong. Every 30 seconds or so, one or the other of the wireless controllers would disconnect, and whichever kid was holding it would see his character disappear from the game; he’d re-connect the controller and re-join the game, just in time for his brother’s controller to disconnect itself. Just watching them stagger and stutter their way along was torture. I think my teeth are smaller, visibly smaller, from the grinding.
We tried all the obvious shit: blaming the kids for pushing the wrong buttons, replacing the batteries, rebooting the Xbox One, reconnecting the controllers from scratch. No soap. They would not stay connected. That was in June. This second Xbox One has not been used to play games for more than 10 frustrated, abortive minutes since then. I have been an Xbox One owner for nearly four months. Xbox Ones have done the job of a video game console in my home for less than 90 total minutes.
The internet says the problem might be that my controllers need updates (more updates!); that I can find out by purchasing micro-USB cables to connect my controllers physically to the console; that only when they are connected physically to the console via these micro-USB cables can my controllers be checked to ensure they are up-to-date. (How does a controller go out of date? Will left and right realign themselves in the world and render its functions obsolete?) The internet says the problem might be interference from my home’s wireless modem; that if I move my wireless modem—if I purchase longer ethernet and HDMI cables and rearrange my living room to put more distance between the Xbox One and a device that sat directly beside the Xbox 360 for the five years we have lived in this home without causing a single problem for that console’s wireless controllers, and still coexists harmoniously with that console to this day—maybe that will solve the problem. The internet says that if neither of those attempted fixes resolve the issue, well, I can just accept that this $350 eighth-generation video game console cannot perform the basic function of communicating with its own peripheral devices wirelessly and keep my controllers connected physically to the Xbox One forever, via those special micro-USB cables.
Pictured: Satan. Photo via AP.
No. Enough. Dumping more time and money on this piece of trash will not redeem it. I hate it more than I hate anything I can think of. The very thought of the blinking white connection light on an Xbox One controller fills me with disgust. The other day, I got excited by a Kotaku post about the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront and decided to take another crack at getting my Xbox One to be an actual video-game console in advance of that game; five minutes and 10 controller re-connections later, I had called that malfunctioning hunk of robot shit a motherfucker in front of my children.
My Xbox One is a DVD player that can also stream Netflix. It is the size of two regular DVD players stacked on top of each other, when it is on it uses as much power as my refrigerator, and it cost as much as a weekend beach vacation, which would have been much nicer. My gift to my poor wife and children is my acceptance of this, when the more natural impulse is to go full Jack Torrance. I figured out how to program my universal remote to control the Xbox One—no wireless modem conflict there, despite it being manufactured by a whole different company—and I use it to play Pixar DVDs and a SpongeBob SquarePants Blu-Ray for my sons.
Of course, in order for it to play movies, I had to download and install the Microsoft Blu-Ray player app, which took 20 minutes. Also, regular DVDs look noticeably worse on the Xbox One than they did on the Xbox 360, which did not need to download anything to play them. As for that ancient Xbox 360, I got more actual game-play out it this past Saturday afternoon than the Xbox One has performed in its entire existence.
Technology is worse than it was. The future is here, and it’s bullshit. The Xbox One is a piece of trash, and I have no doubt that the PlayStation 4 is every bit as bad. Do something else with your money.
Top art by Sam Woolley