Gaming? It's rubbish. Well, that's what you might conclude if you wandered onto most gaming forums, where these days you'll likely encounter a festering pit of cynicism, conspiracy culture and fan rage - but perhaps that's more of a disappointing product of contemporary web culture than any truthful insight into the gaming zeitgeist. So pardon me while I hop onto my virtual soapbox for a moment, poke the forum trolls in the eye and wax lyrical about why we've never had it so good...
It's the end of Xbox World magazine, the end of our particular era. A sad day, but happily the star of our magazine - the titular Xbox itself - is still shining brightly, even if a fair chunk of the userbase are now haranguing Microsoft for their next-gen fix. Despite that lingering red-ringed catastrophe, the fugly beige (latterly sexier, slimline black) console has been a genuine trailblazer, helping to set in motion the tentative beginnings of a vision-cum-infrastructure that'll drive both the games industry and videogame culture to insanely exciting heights. Go MS!
We're self-described 'hardcore' gamers (although we're increasingly cognisant that, compared to some of our peers - like those nutters who play World of Tanks for 15 hours a day for instance - we're really not). Although we've latterly come to view the PC as the current centre of our gaming universe (plug an Xbox pad into it and it's basically a 360 on speed), we're also bowled over by the plethora of amazing titles and initiatives exploding around and outside of that space.
In this gaming age we're able to gaily leap between Halo 4 on 360, Minecraft on PC, The Outfoxies, our home-built MAME machine, The Majesty of Colors in our browser, The Walking Dead on our iPad, Angry Birds Space on our Galaxy S3 (yes, really, and we're utterly unapologetic). We're half bankrupted by the amount of cash we've sunk into Kickstarter projects - and we're more excited about our imminent Oculus Rift dev kit than anything since... well, our grey import Megadrive back in '88.
Indie devs - be they one-man rainmen like VVVVVV's Terry Cavanagh or Fez's Phil Fish, or entire teams of rainmen (and rainwomen) like Journey's Thatgamecompany -are revolutionising the industry, showing tired old so-called 'AAA' devs just how outmoded they are. I'm not suggesting we're quite there yet - the submission process for Live Arcade in particular still seems draconian at best - but the democratising power of the internet allied to a savvier, more mature gaming audience means the days of sequelitis might not necessarily endure forever.
Dig: dinosaurs like THQ are finally paying the price for banging out average, overpriced tat - this more mature, savvier gaming audience is voting with its wallets and only the original, the outstanding will endure. Medal of Honor can't rely on its brand anymore; Warfighter crashed and burned critically and commercially... and rightly so. Even CoD is - tentatively - evolving, as witnessed by the surprisingly different (shut up at the back, it is) Black Ops II.
Meanwhile, the explosion in fan mods is transforming brilliant games like Skyrim into experiences that transcend their humble gaming origins. Nobody cares about 're-skinning' Lara with nude titties anymore; they're too busy making homemade maps for Portal 2. Or recreating Game of Thrones in Minecraft. Or developing Black Mesa... for free. Or making sure you can play every classic LucasArts point 'n clicker in ScummVM (Hey, LucasArts can't be arsed). Our gaming underground is filled with philanthropic heroes, doing what they do out of pure love and passion.
Even more thrillingly, thanks to (mostly) free tools like Unity, Gamemaker and the Adventure Game Studio, grassroot gamers are actually devising and developing their own games. Not shat ones either, but powered by passion and ideas and relatively unfettered by a dearth of tech knowledge. Seems we're all finally once again appreciating that well-worn adage: 'gameplay over graphics'. Phew.
So we come full circle, back to Xbox. Halo 4, aesthetically at least, might signal that 360 still has some purdy tricks up its frayed sleeves, but it's inarguably time for a next gen. Microsoft has learnt so much in just two generations. Amazingly, we trust them. We've both come a long way, and things are only going to get better. Ain't gaming brilliant?