Saturday, 12 April 2008

"Ergonomic Economics."

As much as I hate to admit it, the Nintendo Wii is doing more for the acceptability of video games into the popular lexicon than anything else in video gaming. In the past couple of years Nintendo alone have probably widened their demographic more than video gaming as a medium has in the last ten years. 'Wii Sports', 'Mario + Sonic at the Olympics', 'Brain Training', 'Nintendogs' – all games specifically designed to appeal to the ‘non-gamer’. And they’ve been remarkably successful.

While not possessing the greatest graphics, memory, processing ability, or sheer power, the Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo DS prove to be popular. Their focus on functionality and indeed fun have set them apart from the other major consoles on the market; the Xbox 360 and the PS3. The advantage of the Wii which has made it such a surprise hit is that anyone can pick up a Wii Remote and play: the intuitive controls allow for a game of baseball to be played by swinging the remote as one would a baseball bat. And that makes sense. With the release of ‘Mario Kart Wii’, Nintendo have also proven that their free online service is just as functional and efficient. Within minutes of putting in the game, you can be participating in a race against people from Japan or Europe (it’s yet to be seen how the release of the game in the US will affect the connection service as thousands of Americans inevitably attempt to simultaneously push their Miis into the bandwidth). It works quickly and lets you have fun quickly – that fact (along with the cost) set it apart from the Xbox 360’s own monolithic online service which, on some games, can be an exercise in inept frustration and idiocy.

The Wii’s success among mainstream consumers has shown something about human nature. Whilst there is a select community labelled as ‘gamers’ – serious game aficionados who recognise the PS3 to have the greatest technical computing power but the Xbox 360 to have the best line-up of titles – these people are in the minority. These are the few who recognise the power of gaming and play games for something other than fun (the word ‘game’ in the sense of video-gaming culture is actually something of a misnomer: ‘interactive entertainment’ is probably better but sounds horribly pretentious).These are those who recognise the social philosophy of ‘Bioshock’, the movie-like participatory action of ‘Halo 3’, and the sheer beautiful freedom of a sprawling sandbox title like ‘Assassin’s Creed’ or the upcoming ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’. These are the few, the proud, the gamers.

The Wii has proven that Johnny Public doesn’t care about technical achievement, computing power, or artistic prowess. Johnny Public wants to go home, turn on the console, and be able to easily play a game for fun. Johnny Public wants to be able to have his friends round and for them all to be able to play competitively. The public wants function and efficiency rather than what is technically best. The success of the Apple iPod and iMac show that ergonomic efficiency and ease of use win over technical prowess every time. The Wii, like the iPod, is easy to use, it doesn’t require a lot of thought, and it performs its function. It doesn’t matter to the public that they could be getting more; they don’t want more. They want something that does the job and can then leave it at that.

Some days human beings seem an undeniably complex species, shining out in complicated glory with facets that I could never hope to see or comprehend. And then sometimes human beings seem to be remarkably simple creatures, living simple lives with a few basic desires to be met; longing for nothing more than for things to go on the way they have done. If things must be changed, it must be done slowly. Testament to this is the fact that I have to express this thought in a language that was originally designed for the purpose of telling one another where the ripe fruit was. And, of course, I could live to a thousand and never understand the Truly Great Mystery of Human Civilisation: how on Earth could George W. Bush have got elected not once but twice?

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