Hopes and dreams: Hey, they’re wonderful things. They get us through bad times by giving us something to look forward to, and they prevent us from being complacent by making us yearn for what the future brings. I’m currently focused on the next year of my life, within which I aim to relocate, change jobs and totally re-adjust my life and my priorities. Among the plans I’m putting in place to ensure that happens, it would be easy for me to miss simple pleasures, to ignore what can make me happy in the interim. And Christmas is coming!
Now, my birthday falls at the end of November, a mere month from the celebratory date assigned to the greatest child ever born. I like to think that such closeness indicates possibilities of miraculous greatness in my own life, but some 29 years of evidence suggest otherwise. In fact, all it does is make other people really struggle with what to get me to show me that they love me, even when Nintendo is releasing a new console. My father called me just the other day, telling me that I am pain in the neck to buy for and asking if I wanted a joint present for my two great occasions this year. He asked if I wanted “one of those bloody Wii things.”
Of course I want one of these bloody Wii things! Yet, freezing like a skittish, hungry bear that’s stumbled across a fast food restaurant’s bin, I panicked. I handed the phone to my wife and told them to work it out among themselves under the premise that I wanted a surprise. A few days later, I received some scarves (plural), gloves and pajamas. They are brushed cotton pajamas, and they breathe really nicely, but y’know, I can’t play videogames in new and innovative ways with them (or can I … ?). All they’ve done is raise the question about what they actually agreed to get me. I mean, I was offered a Wii – granted, it wasn’t actually available to buy at that point – and I turned it down and got some clothes. Is one of the Nintendo wonder-consoles still within my grasp, I wonder?
This all makes me sound so horribly materialistic though, doesn’t it? I’m not, I promise.
I don’t want a Wii out of selfishness. I look at it as something that’s going to finally get my family playing together. I watched the videos on the Nintendo site the same as everyone else, but the marketing ideal of “look at all these people who will buy our console” was lost on me. All I could see were the possibilities of my own family laughing and smiling like the people in the tiny movie. All I could envisage was me, off camera, laughing and joking and watching them enjoy themselves.
I know it sounds daft. But, hey, I’ve had great success with similar things. A couple of years ago I bought a board game called Play That Tune. There’s a roll-out piano that you step on to play notes (badly), and other people have to guess what the whole arrangement is. My grandparents were around on Christmas Day, and my grandmother wasn’t really able to stand on the piano. Instead, we rolled it out across both of their laps, and they pressed the buttons instead. As her hands were pressing keys that were, well, laid across his “bits,” the pair of them were giggling and laughing like a couple of school kids. Afterward, everyone said how much fun it had been and how lovely it had been to see them having fun instead of sitting around just being in the company of others on Christmas Day.
Imagine if a Wii achieved that. Imagine if my granddad did a round of golf, and got satisfaction from doing so. Imagine if he and his son completed an inning of bowling together, something that neither of them probably imagines ever happening again now. How ace would that be?
It’s not all about the Wii, though. My sister and I have chipped in together to give my dad the opportunity to be the Rock god he’s always wanted to be. We’ve bought him the Guitar Hero controllers and the sequel to the most rocking game ever! The night I’ll be spending there plays in my mind constantly, me and my old man riffing together, experiencing the glory of the stage and, if we’re lucky, the love of our groupies.
This is the kind of thing we should be expecting from games and consoles constantly: recognizable and intuitive interfaces that allow a coming together of people, a way for generations to connect and enjoy one another’s company. My granddad doesn’t understand the design philosophy of the latest Mario game, but he does know how to swing a golf club. My dad has no concept of how to take on the Third Reich as a one-man army of righteousness, but he does get how to hit buttons on a guitar in time to flashes on the screen. My only fear is that the complex button mashing of traditional consoles will only translate into complex hand waving that will only serve to confuse my grandparents in new ways.
But, hey, there are going to be plenty of great games that don’t overdo the new control method. And with any luck, five years from now, I’ll be asking my father if he wants “one of those bloody Wii 2 things.”
Darren Sandbach is a freelance videogame journalist who spends too much time playing multiplayer games all alone. It does give him a sense of belonging, though, so that’s ok. He hangs out at www.alwaysblack.com.