What's this I hear about a console war?

This Christmas season, three huge companies are competing to convince you to spend most or all of your waking hours on their machine pretending to kill aliens, beat up irate people from around the world, and/or rescue unidentifiable Japanese-designed friendly beings from unidentifiable Japanese-designed evil beings.

How is this different from last year?

Last year some of the game consoles in the battle were as much as five years old. In game console terms, that means that they were the equivalent of unholy beings kept alive by unnatural forces and dark incantations long after they should have passed from this earth. The latest round of machines are much fresher and newer, which means that the unholy powers can go into marketing instead.

How do the consoles differ from each other?

Unlike previous generations where the differences were simple and easy to articulate, such as "Mortal Kombat on the Genesis gots more blood," the differences among these machines involve pushing polygons, bump mapping, and other phrases that sound like excerpts from "Debbie Does Flatland." The actual effect this has on the screen is subtle and often difficult to see, which is why each machine is now bundled with a rabid fan of the system recruited from various discussion boards around the Web. This fan will stand over your shoulder and point out reasons your machine completely rocks over the competition. They will also make disappointed noises and roll their eyes whenever you fail to play the games at optimal efficiency, but that's the price you pay for progress.

Which console should I buy?

That depends on which company you hate the least. Modern video game purchases are motivated primarily by the desire to see some console or another perish in a yawning rift that opens up beneath it, brimstone and the wails of the damned reaching up as the console sinks into a lake of fire, as happened with the Dreamcast.

So which companies should I hate?

Thanks to the wonders of capitalism, there should be a console to match any of your prejudices and preconceptions. You should hate Nintendo if you can't stand the idea of people wanting to play a game that doesn't involve arterial spray, as Nintendo has been known to encourage people under the age of fifteen to enjoy their games. You should hate Microsoft if you believe that the company that controls the Crazy Taxi franchise controls the world. You should hate Sony if you bought a Dreamcast.

Shouldn't I base my decision on the games available for each one?

Your naivete is charming.