Monday, January 08, 2007


I thought I understood what Nintendo is doing with the Wii. And in some ways, I guess I did, but I didn't understand it clearly.

This weekend, though, I finally, clearly realized what they're trying to do: Nintendo wants to realign how we play with a console to be closer to what all of us would consider play in general.

It sounds simple, really.

Gaming consoles depend on an entirely new definition of play that was created just for them. Before we had computers and gaming consoles, would anyone have thought that sitting and holding a control device that we manipulated rapidly in response to what was happening on the screen in front of us as "play"?

No. And importantly, many people still don't. Think about it--we're called "gamers" because we understand this new definition of play. There's a special term for us because the definition of play used by video games is so specialized.

That's why what Nintendo has done with the Wii is far more substantial than it originally seemed. Nintendo realized that the separate definition of play used by video games wasn't really necessary.

When I use the 360 now, which is only rarely, it feels much less like play than it did before we got the Wii. Because it really isn’t much like play, if you think about it.

The 360 controller, which is the best traditional game controller I've ever used, has two analog sticks, four face buttons, a four-direction D-pad, a back button, a start button, a "360" button, two shoulder buttons, and two triggers. In a traditional sports game, at least ten of those buttons/sticks/triggers will be used.

Holy shit. Are we talking about a game controller or a helicopter?

That kind of controller encourages complexity, and I don't mean complexity in a good way. Just try to pull off a one-one-on move in NBA2K7--like a jab step:
Pull right trigger + left trigger and flick left stick in opposite direction of pivot foot to jab step. From this position, the user can perform a quick first step explosion out of the triple threat by releasing both triggers.


Is that play?

Well, it's not play for most of us. It's not even play for me, and I love sports games.

Nintendo certainly isn't immune to control issues. Wii games that use the Nunchuck can be quite complicated--and a bit clunky. Awkward. But a game like Wii Sports, which focuses on your movement corresponding to the game in as simple and direct a way as possible, is brilliant. Almost everyone "gets" it immediately, because it uses a definition of play that everyone on the planet understands.

That's not a gimmick.

How often do we play Wii Sports? Every day. I'm sure we've put in 40 hours, at least, at this point, and I'm sure we'll put in another 40 or more. Why? Because it's fun. It's so much more fun to be moving than sitting.

I fully expect the Wii to have a higher percentage of bad games than any other console, because many developers will just not be able to break out of a traditional mindset. But I also strongly believe that the best games for the Wii will be better and far more fun than anything else we've ever seen before.

They'll be play.

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