The past six years has seen great leaps and bounds in gaming technology and developed the gaming market to a level comparable with the ailing music and movie industries. Gaming has gone social, controller-less, portable, casual, and into the 3rd dimension all to please its pleasantly spoilt fans. E3, comic-con and PAX are now huge events on the media and social calendars, drawing vast crowds and big name celebrities to conventions which were once snubbed and brushed aside for only the lowliest of socially inept geek to covet a place in its now thronging exhibition halls.
The main perpetrator of this popularity; the machine that brought children, grandparents and whole families together to bring gaming to its new rank of social acceptability?
It can be argued that gamings popularity rose with the Playstation, the Megadrive or even as far back as Atari, but I put it to you that none of these brought gaming out of the shadows of geekery quite like the plucky and entertaining Wii.
With the announcement of project café and the WiiU and increasing rumour mongering regarding PS4 and a potential Microsoft-Sony collaboration, I began thinking about the huge cultural impact of this runt of the litter game system and what it has done for the face of modern gaming. It seems such a shame that the Wii, once coveted to the point of death is now the subject of ridicule and slight even by criminal standards. It may have been a late comer, arriving a year after the release of the big gun Xbox 360 and PS3. But like the 3DS since, Nintendo held back a wealth of surprising and game changing technology. Cards held close to the chest recently have sent the world of stereoscopic 3D in a spiral by using parallax barriers to provide glasses-free 3D visuals, similarly while Sony and Microsoft traded in powerful machines the Wii simply did something new and innovative.
Motion control had been dabbled with using the PS2’s ‘eye-toy’, even Nintendo themselves historically had the gun toting ‘Duck hunt’ but these all paled into gaming history when we first wielded the wiimote and nunchuck. That technology was the linchpin to the Wii’s success, real motion control, a new dimension in HCI (Human Computer Interaction) which may have spent years in a lab at MIT but was given the application and marketability by Nintendo. That technology has allowed for motion control research to be disseminated to the masses. Previous versions of the technology were massively expensive, now one can pick up a Wii or under $100 take it apart and create all manner of experimental concepts.
This idea that there was little more than a familiar looking remote control needed to experience gaming also tied in with what Nintendo wanted from the Wii’s audience. Gaming was always seen as the lazyboy, button smashing of disaffected youth. With the combined pincer movement of cerebral – with the DS and it emphasis on puzzle and brain training – and fitness - the Wii, its focus movement and exercise through Wiisports and the ridiculously popular balance board – Nintendo seemed to genuinely care about the health of its users, proving that gaming could be fun and provide that little bit more than mere entertainment.
It also became clear that the Wii was not aimed at the standard gaming demographic, the system may be lacking in the standard hardcore gaming fare of FPS, online multiplayer and in depth RPG which were being catered for by its rival systems but it cornered the market in games for kids, grandparent and family parties.
In essence the Wii was a Machiavellian hippy with a mission to surreptitiously get us all off the couch and back to the game nights of pre-console family life. Although short lived and easily cast aside the Wii is an entertaining system which brought gaming to a generation who would otherwise have believed that computing started after their time.
There is no doubt that the superior hardware of the 360 and PS3 has outshone the humble Nintendo system but that only adds credence to the old adage of ‘brighter flames’. Both of these domineering consoles have since pushed development in motion control after seeing its success and proliferation to a wider and previously untapped gaming market.
The current ridicule of the Wii will soon, hopefully, be rescinded as Nintendo reveal the capacity and power of the WiiU. From what has been shown recently this spiritual and literal successor will house the raw power required of modern bleeding edge gaming while retaining the ethics and moral code Nintendo subscribed themselves to when last stepping out into the console market.
Disc capacity and touch-screen mobility will hopefully be more than gimmicks to draw in a crowd, but even if this advanced heirs fate is doomed to that of a family curse, Nintendo should be remembered as sacrificial lambs to the never ending march of technology.
In its distilled form the Wii is the Vietnam veteran of console gaming, suffering ridicule and dismissal yet sitting in the corner marginally proud of its sacrifice to the cause no matter how undervalued that may be. If you own a PS move or the Xbox Kinnect than you owe the Wii a nod of respect, you own that old-before-his-years veteran a drink and the occasional game of Wii bowling.