I’ve never been a hardcore gamer, though I do love a little first-person shooting every so often. I have an old XBox and had a PS1 but they are now gathering dust. I used the XBox as a DVD player in our gym; now it has migrated to the garage, which is a little like the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
Why is my XBox languishing? Mostly because I don’t get much return for time spent playing games. Sure, Halo is fun. I mean, I bought the game and played it pretty much straight for a couple days. It became almost a compulsion (“Next level! Next level!). Doom had the same effect; Quake, too. I bought Final Fantasy and started to play it, but came up against a big problem: it takes to long to learn the game.
It’s like becoming a Kant scholar. I mean, Why? I don’t want to spend 5,000 hours learning the game. I want something that is simple, challenging, and fun—and that has some sort of spillover benefits into the rest of my life (other than mere distraction). This problem, note, does not just afflict video games: chess has the same issue, as do go and bridge.
All these complaints seem to be on the mind of Nintendo, whose new Wii (pronounced “Wee!”) I expected to be an also-ran. Saturo Iwata, the president of Nintendo, seems to get this. According to The Economist,
The main problem with modern games, he says, is that they require players to invest enormous amounts of time. As lifestyles have become busier, leaving less time for gaming, the industry has moved towards epic games which take dozens of hours to complete. This is leading some occasional gamers to stop playing and deterring non-gamers from giving it a try, says Mr Iwata. There are other factors too: novices are put off by the need to master complex controllers, festooned with buttons, triggers and joysticks. And not everyone wants to escape into a fantasy gaming world. “That attracts avid gamers,” he says, but can make it “difficult for people to become interested in games”.
Yeah. I’ll say. So Nintendo tried something else:
Nintendo set out to reach beyond existing gamers and expand the market. This would involve simpler games that could be played for a few minutes at a time and would appeal to non-gamers or casual gamers (who play simple games on the web but would not dream of buying a console). They would be based on new, easy-to-use controls. And they would rely on real-life rather than escapist scenarios. This was not an entirely new approach: dancing games that use cameras or dance mats as controllers have proved popular in recent years. But Nintendo began to design entire games consoles around such ideas.
Now, this is clever: growing through getting new customers rather than just selling upgrades to the pale dorks who are sitting in their rooms with the shades drawn playing Half-Life in between visits to PornoTube. Interestingly, Wired picked the Wii as the best of the consoles recently. Maybe I’ll have to get one of these Wii things. But one things is holding me back: the name. “Want to go play Wii?” “Huh?” “Wii—let’s go Wii?” “You have to go wee?”