Don’t watch this video at work. It’s not inappropriate in sexual or violent ways, but there is something unsettling about a POV hand packing meat into an Xbox. Props to Smick for the link, and I forgive him for ruining cantaloupes forever. This video raises an obvious question: what the fuck? It turns out that anti-Xbox videos are a whole microgenre of internet content. Some of it stems from aggressive digital rights management policies that have ostensibly been repealed. Most of it, though, appears to be a consequence of the console wars.
For those of you who are not nerds: Sony and Microsoft released their next-generation gaming consoles—Playstation 4 and Xbox One, respectively—at nearly the same time. Part of that was to exploit the holiday retail season, but their strategies also seemed designed to force the market to choose between one system or another. It’s as if Coke and Pepsi released new flavors on the same day.
Correction: it’s as if Coke and Pepsi released new flavors on the same day, and dudes in Pepsi t-shirts made videos of themselves urinating into Coke bottles. “Gamer” is an identity. Anti Xbox videos are an expression of how powerful and exclusive that identity can be.
Because many of the most popular console games are now played online, gamers who play on Playstation Network and gamers who play on Xbox Live are largely segregated from one another. To the degree that they like Playstation Network and want as many other people to play with on it as they can, PS4 gamers see Xbox One as a threat to their hobby—and to their $400 investment.
If everyone buys Xbox Ones and plays on Microsoft’s network, PS4 fails. It becomes betamax to Xbox’s VHS. The same thing could easily happen to Xbox—gradually is happening, if you go by early sales figures—and so the very existence of a rival game system because cause for anxiety.
It’s a recipe for encouraging consumers to identify with a product. Anyone who used a Mac in the 1990s knows how the threat of another system—hell, the threat of Microsoft—can solidify your loyalty to a particular computer. Because PCs threatened to overwhelm us at any moment, the choice to use a Mac took on aesthetic and even ethical dimensions.
Now that virtually all documents and applications work on both platforms, this effect has been ameliorated. But when Macs and PCs were separated by a compatibility wall—as Playstations and Xboxes are now—the choice of system was a choice of cadre and a bet on the future.
Anti Xbox videos express the anxiety of this choice. The one above takes on a kind of gleeful absurdity as the hatred our POV character expresses toward the Xbox—stuffing it with raw meat, urinating on it, throwing it into the driveway—seems to spill over to other, non-Xbox objects. The implication is that the hand’s loathing for Xbox has become a kind of blind, omnidirectional rage. It moves beyond consumer angst to become existential.
Plenty of things are weird about that. For one, consumers probably should not identify so strongly with the Sony corporation. YouTube is not filled with videos of people throwing cantaloupe on Roe v. Wade or Ted Cruz. You don’t see this kind of desecration piece directed at sports teams. It’s odd that video game systems, more than political issues or cultural affiliations, have inspired this kind of rabid identification.
Part of that is selection bias. YouTube users are far more likely to play video games than Tea Party voters or Raiders fans, since by necessity they have the internet. Surely there are pictures of Barack Obama on dart boards across the country, but they don’t get videotaped. Still, the level of vituperation that anti-Xbox videos express toward an object—an object of play, no less—is kind of disturbing.
The word “desecrate” once applied primarily to objects and sites of religious significance. During the time when people did such things, religion was another mutually exclusive network that determined whom you could join in communication and fun. The more people worshipped Baal, the fewer people would come to your festival of Michaelmas. The Xbox/Playstation conflict is an expression of that same tribal attitude, only applied to maybe the most trivial thing imaginable.
I don’t want to make too much of a video of a guy fingering a cantaloupe and peeing on a game console. Still, the people who watch it would probably never endorse a video of someone doing the same thing to a Koran or a French flag. It is 2014, and this is what gets us worked up now.