I could not, by any stretch of the phrase, be said to be ‘coming around’ to the Wii U. And yet – that being the sort of statement inevitably followed by the words ‘and yet’ – I seem to have been getting more use out of it lately. As much use as I can from a device with a three-hour battery life, anyway. But I played Pikmin 3, have recently started on Wonderful 101, and I bought Game & Wario a while back. That wasn’t even with the professional game reviewer excuse; I genuinely wanted that one.
I’m still not impressed by blatant gimmickery – although I’m not as sniffy about the controller as I was about that of the Wii U’s predecessor, complaints about battery life notwithstanding – and there’s this weird insular nature about Nintendo and its jealously hoarded IP combined with the stark whiteness and gentle soundscape that remind me of an alien sterilisation cult. It’s like the beginner’s guide to becoming a Mac user. And yet (here we go again), there’s definitely something about it I find comforting, like a big woolly sweater with built-in blinkers. Maybe because it’s the only major next-gen console that seems content to, mainly, just be a games machine.
So my feelings towards the Wii U can best be described as ‘complicated’. Not the Facebook ‘it’s complicated’, more like the complicated feelings Javert had about Valjean by the end of Les Mis. And there’s one feature about which I’m particularly ambivalent, and I thought writing about it might help. It’s this whole idea of being able to transfer your game entirely to the touchscreen controller in order to continue playing it elsewhere if someone wants to use the TV.
For one thing, it’s kinda odd for Nintendo, because there’s a consistent pattern of Nintendo games being psychotic about appearing responsible and telling you, the player, to take a break every few hours. Sometimes I wonder if this attitude is why the battery keeps running out; I’m not saying it was deliberately made that way, just that it might be why they didn’t see the need to change it. But this attitude seems a bit at odds with this idea of being able to continue playing after playtime is over. Perhaps secretly, under the covers, late at night. Shh!
Secondly, it makes me think back to promotional videos for consoles that invariably feature gleeful families, always in the bloody pastel shirts, enjoying quality together-time around the games machine in the middle of the living room. And that, too, is an image drastically at odds with the image one associates with one person taking the controller away to continue playing all by themselves in a pit somewhere. Is this a tacit admission that such marketing material is and has always been completely full of shit? I like to think so.
But those are just observations on the motivations behind it, my personal feelings on the feature itself are kind of caught between two extremes. On the one hand, I have a respect for handheld and tablet gaming because I think video game storytelling is closest in spirit to reading a book – the close connection between the story and the audience, the way a book reader is sort of participating by filling in the blanks in their own mind – and the act of gaming with a handheld is reminiscent of quietly going off and reading a book. It’s a personal thing between the user and the thing being used. Books are not designed to be shown on a big screen in front of a roomful of people while loud noises play in the background.
So there’s that side of things, but then I realise that switching a console game to a handheld game takes more than just changing the platform, the two kinds of game have different attitudes. Console gaming is also a thing of impressive scenes and bright lights, and if the popularity of gameplay videos on Youtube tells us anything, it’s that they seem to work rather well as a spectator sport.
With that in mind, Nintendo specifically creating a feature that allows players to slink off and stop bothering the normal people starts to look a bit conciliatory. The scenario of party A playing with the Wii U and having to move because party B wants to, say, watch Transformers on DVD could just as easily occur the other way around – with party A watching Transformers and party B coming in wanting to play Wii U. So why did video games have to concede first? Isn’t this feature a tacit admission that literally anything you can do with a TV is a worthier use of it than playing video games?
Oh come on, Yahtzee, nothing is forcing you to use it, it’s just a harmless little feature intended only to expand what play options are available, there’s no need to be all harrumphy and paranoid about it. But you know, there are any number of features that could have been added to create convenience or more options. Like an Oculus Rift or a little clip on the controller for holding your bottle of cider. The fact they went for one feature in particular suggests something about their feelings. The same way that even the most neutral news outlet in the world still shows some bias by deciding what stories to give airtime to.
I suppose what it may reflect is that Nintendo still regard gaming as being a thing for kids. Kids who need to clear out when their parents come in and want to watch Panorama and other grown-up television programmes. And that’s very disappointing for someone like me who spends most of his life rubbing up against the popular image of video games in global culture. Nintendo are free to do whatever they like, that’s their business, but unfortunately most of the population who don’t know much about gaming regard Nintendo as synonymous with it. They are arguably in the best position to further the medium, and yet, want to do no such thing.
That’s what annoys me. Well. It doesn’t annoy me THAT much. I just have a lot of time to think about it while I’m waiting for the controller to charge.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.