Game Designer Says "Wii U Isn't Sure of Itself, and That's its Greatest Virtue"
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Nintendo tackles modern technology habits
There are plenty of us, outside of North America at least, that are waiting to spend serious time on Wii U, so concepts such as asynchronous multiplayer are still shrouded in some mystery; even early adopters are likely to still be discovering new uses for the system's GamePad controller. Plenty is already being said about Nintendo's new grand idea, with a variety of views ranging from gushing praise to dismissals of the second screen as a gimmick, along with plenty of balanced arguments in between.
One interesting perspective is that of game designer and researcher Ian Bogost, who's written a fairly lengthy article on the Wii U concept for Gamasutra. Bogost goes into great detail about the concept of dual screen play, and interestingly turns a fairly common complaint — the awkward practice of looking from GamePad to TV on regular occasions — and argues that it's actually a move by Nintendo to relate gaming experience to that of everyday habits.
The sensation of being split between the television and the handheld computer feels strange and awkward. But isn't this precisely how all of us feel today, all the time? Torn between the lush absorption of newly cinematic television and the lo-fi repetition of streams of text and image on our mobile phones and tablets? If the Wii attached to television's past, the Wii U couples to its present: still seemingly unassailable, the most powerful mass medium around, delivering more and more immersion annually, yet substantially eroded by tiny devices delivering quips, quotes, and cat photos.
...If earlier Nintendo systems made video games safe for homes and families, the Wii U turns the tables: it attempts to make the current trends in the internet and consumer electronics safe for video games. It's the first earnest, sustained, hardware-invested example of such an effort, and it's full of risk and danger.
Bogost goes on to talk about some of the system's launch titles, with a general argument that they give a sense of a game system breaking the mould, without necessarily realising it's doing so to that degree. By incorporating a traditional idea of playing games on the TV, but throwing in a secondary screen that can be compared to the distractions of devices such as tablets and smartphones, perhaps Nintendo is acknowledging the shifting nature of video game entertainment, without necessarily being sure of the way it's going to continue to evolve.
It's almost impossible to understand the Wii U in the abstract, without playing it. And even then you won't be sure of it, because the Wii U isn't sure of itself, and that's its greatest virtue. In an age when showy CEOs shout hubristic, trite predictions about the inevitable future of games, The Wii U offers an understated bravado that's far more courageous. With it, Nintendo admits, "we don't know either." We don't know what video games are anymore, or what they will become. It's a huge risk, and it's probably the most daring move Nintendo has made in its 125-year history. Domestication through polite ferocity. Feral design.
... We've all been assuming that games "growing up" means growing up in theme, tackling adult issues, achieving the aesthetic feats of literature and painting and film — even if by "film" we usually mean "summer tent-pole movies."
But there are other ways to grow up. One involves embracing the uncertainty of one's own form and responding deliberately. That's what real art does, after all. It admits that it doesn't know what art is in theory, but only in practice. It gives the finger to its critics because it doesn't care if they like the results. Some among us keep asking for the Citizen Kane of games. Maybe Nintendo delivered something better, something weirder and more surprising — particularly for a consumer electronics device. Not craft but soul, for once. Even Apple hasn't succeeded at that.
It's an article that's certainly academic in tone, but is certainly worth a read for a slightly different perspective on the Wii U and GamePad concept. Let us know what you think of Bogost's ideas in the comments below.