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A new Console War is coming: lessons from a combat veteran

I will show you fear in a handful of dust

A funny thing happened at work yesterday: I killed a man. Well, an intern. He was saying something about onerous transcription duties, about how his writing skillz were "gathering dust", and I didn't hear what he said after that because I reached right down his throat, into his chest and tore his lungs out.

Later, there were questions. Complaints, even. Interns aren't ten-a-penny, and if there's one thing that's calculated to lower office morale - one thing that really hobbles productivity and puts a ceiling on your blue-sky thinking - it's the sight of the guy you knew as "that vegetarian on floor 4" bellowing tearfully at a fistful of bronchial tubes. But I'm not to blame, really. Nobody's to blame. I didn't make myself the way I am. No sir. The war made me.

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"Gathering dust" hits a very special nerve. It stirs up a fearful mess of memories, like the gobbets of bloody foam above a piranha feeding frenzy - exchanges and scenes I'd thought I'd finally laid to rest after years as a quiet, law-abiding non-combatant, the proud and unconflicted owner of all three current generation consoles. Well, two current generation consoles and a broken PS3. And a DS. And a PSP that only works when I carry it sideways.

I thought I'd made my peace with the great gods of console fanboyism, those hideous chimerical sowers of strife and discord, turning brother against brother and, I suppose it's necessary to observe nowadays, sister against sister. Sure, I work for an Xbox site, but that's a fall of the dice - if Jonty hadn't laughed at my Final Fantasy XII jokes in the interview I'd probably be writing for Maxim, or something. My old, sinful self is behind me. Except he isn't any more. The future beckons, like that president guy on the poster. They're going to announce the PS4 tomorrow, those crazy murderous fools.

Where does dust come into it? Well, I suppose there's no point keeping a lid on things now. Dust was one of the many, muddled criteria by which we legions of the faithful - we incorrigible brand loyalists - asserted our victories over the other side and their misbegotten hardware. It was a strict question of empirical science: if you could demonstrate that your own version of The Enemy's console had more dust on or in it than His version of yours, you won the thread. I lost good mates to scraps like that - hence the fistful of bronchioles. Somehow, it never occurred to anyone to post pictures. Or to wonder why we were all arguing about whether it was worth buying consoles we'd evidently already bought.

Dust-gathering was a piece of cake next to the specs stuff, of course. You'd have thought the odds would have been more cut and dried when it came to specifications - can't argue with the hardware's publicly disseminated, quantifiable capabilities, can you? Well, it turns out you can, providing you don't actually know what all the numbers mean. That was the secret to success, much of the time: cast-iron ignorance tops genuine understanding any day of the week. People who know what they're talking about tend to let their knowledge bog them down, whereas those who can't tell an API from Adam are quick on their pins.

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All you needed - and all you will need - was the vocabulary, a few hard-hitting acronyms up your sleeve to dazzle the other guy with and rally the undecideds to your cause. The one about PS3's "asymmetrical" architecture being "hard" to "tap" was a favourite of mine. Then you'd follow up with a line about dust, or perhaps something about "the world's most expensive paperweight", or about how your best friend doesn't own one and he works in IT support. You had to be merciless like that, or the Enemy might leave the thread secure in the conviction that He was actually capable of deriving a sense of enjoyment from the console He'd bought. A savage, savage business.

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