A Giant in Our Midst
The Nintendo Wii is a beautiful thing. It arrived at a time when the other gaming consoles were fighting a war for supreme mediocrity. In the front lines were rehashes of first person shooters that looked like high definition DOOM, tired licenses where the producers forgot why we loved the original in the first place and movie titles that were positioned to catch sixty dollars from parents of nine year olds looking to re-experience the magic of a day at the cinema.
Nintendo in a stroke of inspiration decided that ‘the only winning move was not to play’ and rediscovered fun instead of higher frame rates and jumpy multiplayer combat. The promise of Wii sports was that gaming was now a family affair and folks who hated video games because they were ‘for the kids’ found themselves jumping and clapping when they got a strike in Wii Bowling. The video game industry was born anew.
Since then Nintendo has released some masterful first party titles such as Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime, but corporate overlords with dollars in their eyes went for the cheap cash grab and created movie licensed titles and mini-game collections that were not worth the shiny disks they were printed on.
The Medieval Era
Since the Wii is still making gobs of money people may wonder why gamers are complaining. Allow me to talk about a part of my childhood. In the mid eighties the Atari 2600 was one of the greatest things that had ever happened to me. There were some fantastic games for the console. As time publishers figured they could make some money and flooded the market with cheap poor quality games. Titles were released for such movie classics as ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’ and ‘Megaforce’. Actually watchable movies like ‘Alien’ and ‘E.T.’ also had games made from them, but the connection to the actual films were tenuous and ‘E.T.’ became the godfather of what we now know as shovelware in a very literal sense. LINK Eventually, the really bad games outweighed the even remotely decent games and the bottom fell out of the market. Parents were sick of buying games that their kids found unplayable or boring and no one was really around to teach them which ones to buy. Investing in creating a video game was a losing proposition and everyone walked away. It was a dark time.
It took a bit of marketing trickery and an excellent console like the Nintendo Entertainment System to pull us out and restart the gaming culture again. Kids bough the console and department stores stocked it because of the silly robot that was included, but despite this the experience was fantastic so it kept us playing. In turn this trend kept us buying.
A Bleak Future?
As the year passes the midway mark and retailers start heading towards the holiday rush it is becoming clear that we will have another year of bad game purchases by well intentioned people who don’t know any better. Potentially this could be the death stroke for the Wii. People may get to the point where they realize that their fifty to sixty dollars doesn’t buy them much and so they won’t invest again. This sentiment is heartbreaking because so much could be done with this console and it’s capabilities. I will not be shocked if the two quarters after December turns into desert for games on the Wii and titles will be discounted at a loss for the publishers, just like my Atari experience in the eighties.
I loaned Resident Evil IV to a friend the other day who is not really a gamer but owns a Wii. From the reports it appears that it was a magical experience for him. A high quality title that didn’t have the trappings of a children’s game. He had no idea it existed. I bet if I now recommended titles to him of similar quality he would eventually buy. Since a game can last anywhere from twenty to one hundred hours of play the value beats two hours at the cinema.
Can We Fix It? Yes We Can!
If we can figure out how to get good games to people, the people will buy good games. If people start buying good games then third party publishers will wake up and start producing high quality games. This paired with a bit of a hardware refresh for the Wii (Built in MotionPlus support, better Nintendo DSi integration, High Definition graphics and a decent storage solution) will give us a console that will drive the industry for some time and create some decent competition with the other console players.
The time has come to legitimize video gaming as an acceptable form of play along with other forms of entertainment that people feel are healthy. The negative view of video gaming is largely if not completely illegitimate at this point. People don’t even know why they don’t like video games or they are clinging to the same odd rationale that plagued radio, movies, comic books and television in their infancy. If you love your past time do yourself and the industry a favor, give others the gift of experience that you have had many times over. I lived through a video game crash once, I don’t think I have the strength to do it again.