Enthusiasm for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 seems to have crested. Go ahead and surrender, if you haven’t already.
T-RACR94 is spitting insults into my earpiece: Apparently I "can’t drive for shit," and he hopes his driver’s license test will be as easy as mine must have been. The "94" in T-RACR94’s tag is a giveaway: He’s 12 years old. And he’s currently a mile and a half in front of me, going a buck eighty in a candy-green Mitsubishi; my own Porsche Cayman is matte black, to suit my minimalist, teenager-in-the-’90s aesthetic. It’s wedged between a Dumpster and a wall.
I retaliate with the news that I’ve actually driven many of these cars in real life because I went to a good college and have an awesome job; he, on the other hand, obviously spends so much time playing video games that his chances of getting into any college at all are slim. Silence. And then the game abruptly ends. I’m back on the home screen, and T-RACR94 is absent from my list of friends.
Welcome to Xbox Live, the online gaming community where children rule and adults with inferior hand-eye coordination are kicked around like Piggy from Lord of the Flies. Xbox Live is actually nothing new, but Xbox 360 transformed it from a bonus into a standard feature. Previous consoles left it to game designers to write online gameplay into the software. Xbox 360, on the other hand, is online all the time, and every game has an online component. The new Xbox Live even allows you to download movie trailers and game demos and chat right from the start-up screen—all for free. Is this a good thing? That depends on how you much you value your social life.
Microsoft knows how much time people spend online buying things and talking to their friends. Bill Gates’ posse is out to take all that over with the Xbox 360. This isn’t just some conspiracy theory. It’s the truth. Just ask them—they’ll admit it, smile, and delicately pluck $400 from your wallet. My advice: Don’t resist. It only hurts for a second.
This console has received a lot of well-deserved praise for its ability to render high-definition graphics and ultra-realistic gameplay. The 360’s processor has three 3.2 gigahertz cores, delivering more than a teraflop of processing power. Blahdidy blah blah. That means more than 1 trillion calculations per second—if you ate out for every meal, it would take you more than 913,242,009 years of figuring out tips to equal the math the new Xbox can do in one second. So when you blow up an alien’s head, Xbox 360 can calculate what happens to every single flying chunk, taking into account the angle from which you shoot, the weapon you use, and the debris encountered as the gore splats across planet Beta 245 Prime or whatever.
But the 360’s importance lies in its capabilities beyond those of a typical video game system: Pop in a DVD or a CD and it runs it without hassle—no worrying about which button on the game controller plays the disc, because every console comes with a remote. And if you have a Windows XP computer on your home network, the 360 can sniff out music or video files and play them through your home entertainment system. You can even plug an MP3 player into the console’s USB jack and access its contents.
The scary part is that all these extra functions work pretty easily, making the 360 useful to the whole household—at least theoretically. And then there’s the physical design: While the first Xbox, blocky black and covered in heat-dissipating corrugations, looked like a control module from Battlestar Galactica, the 360 is friendly and white. Its gentle concavity evokes a less-threatening femininity that whispers, I want to snuggle with your whole family. Though Microsoft’s publicists call the matte white exterior hue "Chill," there is no mistaking that color: a variant of iPod White, the most accessible color to ever grace the shelves of Best Buy, as if designed by Odysseus Jobs himself to breach your Trojan household.
Maybe these factors will hypnotize Mom into buying one for little Timmy and the family. And maybe, in the small hours of the suburban night, Timmy will sit cross-legged and gaping in front of a glowing screen, telling a 27-year-old man that he can’t drive for shit.
Joe Brown is an associate editor of Popular Science. He’s known on Xbox Live as JMFB—challenge him.