But more and more, media companies are working to subtly chip away at the very concept of ownership - not in the name of some utopian Marxist redistribution ideal but in the name of clever Capitalism. In a world where products that only ever existed in digital form are built to be altered and augmented even when you're not presently using them, it's not much of a leap to redefine a product to be purchased into a service you merely pay for access to. And the XBox One, which is said to require unique installation codes to install even physically purchased games exclusively one console (effectively ending the world of used, rental and borrowed gaming as we know it) represents the most prominent attempt yet to make this radical redefinition of the consumer relationship the norm.
It wasn't long ago that one of my Big Picture episodes found me lamenting the passing of Nintendo Power magazine and reconsidering, with the benefit of hindsight, the worries of a bygone era that the heavily commercialized childhoods experienced by my generation would turn us into a nation of submissive consumer zombies obedient to the brand name icons we'd grown up with. Then and now, I find that particular concern overblown since growing up with He-Man as a hero failed to turn me or anyone else I know into the willing slave of Mattel or its shareholders.
But the reason for that, I believe, is largely because ownership was still a tangible factor. One can quibble over whether or not it was culturally healthy for the hero figures of my generation to so often be mascots for toylines, but at the end of the day your He-Man (or Optimus Prime, or Barbie, or whatever) was just that: yours. And however insidiously their makers could encourage brand loyalty, once you'd acquired the desired object you were under no further obligation of support. Had Hasbro filed for bankruptcy in the late 80's, no one would've woken up to find their toy chest suddenly devoid of Transformers.
Likewise, while it seems I'm fated to spend another console generation in fear of Nintendo calling it quits and closing the book on Mario and company once and for all, if and when that happens I can rest assured that my still working NES, SNES and collection of games for both will not suddenly blink out of existence. In terms of games I have already bought and paid for, I owe neither them nor any other corporation any further allegiance.
But the "games as services" model embodied by the XBox One and much of its industry would fundamentally eliminate that vital separation. The goal is to make the customer dependant on the company, not the other way around. In the future envisioned through these practices, your ability to not only continue playing new games but indeed keeping the ones you already have could easily be tied directly to the fate of the company you bought it from. This would effectively turn digital entertainment into the equivalent of a pet hamster that's been genetically engineered to only survive on food available from one specific store (and don't you dare think that PetSmart aren't dumping money into research for exactly that right now) .
The endgame? A world where what used to be only the most extreme form of fanboyism becomes something like a survival skill. I must support (nay, evangelize for!!!) this company, even if it's not giving me the best service or otherwise behaving in a manner I want to be associated with, because if I don't they might fold and who knows how many games, movies and books that I love will vanish with them - blinked out of The Cloud like tears in the rain.
I am not a paranoid man. I don't see the word "corporate" as inherently evil, I don't live in fear of my social security number one day being used to decide the location of my concentration camp bunk, I have never woken up in a cold sweat from the thought of black helicopters. But I know what too far looks like, in terms of tying my fate to that of a corporation simply because I at one point wished to use their product. And turning videogames into "services" because of a false choice between quality and freedom of use is the beginning of too far.
And I do not expect that I am alone.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.