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Lets NOT all hail Nintendo

As a fan of Leigh Alexander I’d like to take the time to counter some of what (What’s our Mandate) she’s written about none other than Nintendo. I’ve written quite a few things before doubting Nintendo for nearly everything they’ve done with the Wii and I can’t say that my opinion has changed in the slightest. Firstly will be a look at the following:

All hail Nintendo, for bringing video games to morning mainstream television, for lining up the all-ages gamers outside of its stores, for bringing in the girls, the senior citizens, the rehabbing soldiers, the fitness junkies. Yes, yes, thanks to Nintendo for fostering a more friendly attitude toward gaming among the uninitiated, for opening minds with a clean, soothing and bright white Wii ray.

Now, Nintendo is indeed doing a great service for the entire gaming culture from the aspect of what is called the “mainstream”, but what is really happening here? Are consumers really interested in playing a videogame now when they previously had not or is it that they’re just running with the tide of what’s hot and just following suit with the unwashed masses who feel they need to stay with the “in” crowd? A debate about accessibility can easily be had now, but that’s another matter for some other time. As for the more friendly attitude Nintendo has brought toward gaming, lets think about that for a second. Who’s really bringing this friendly attitude? It most certainly isn’t Nintendo. The potential user of the Wii is bringing this attitude all on their own as they some how feel that the Wii is what I’ll bring up again, accessible. If you look at any of the marketing efforts Nintendo is putting forth it’s painfully obvious that what their doing is not getting people to care to want to play the Wii, but flail around in there living room in the guise of playing a videogame. Go ahead, look at anyone of those ads. They all rarely show anything about what’s ultimately the entire point of owning a machine dedicated to playing videogames, the game. And yes, that’s clearly not what these “new” gamers are looking for as they are highly likely to not know anything about what their so hot to purchase in the first place.

If games mean more to us than simple toys, it’s because we’ve found a personal, emotional connection point, and that’s no small deal. We hope that games will contain many of these touchstones, and I think a heartening percentage of them do. I think, though, the key to gaming becoming really meaningful and important to society at large is for them to develop touchstones that aren’t necessarily personal to us, but relevant to the world on a whole.

Simple toys. What a bastardisation of what gamers hold dearly. It’s a phrase that’s as played out as a 747 being just a mere plaything for aspiring pilots to sit in and pretend there actually doing something other than playing with a gigantic hot-wheel. Videogames mean more to us as much as movies mean allot to a movie goer as they walk out of a theater feeling that they know the characters that they’ve just been watching for a few odd hours. Gamers understand what the joy of gaming is all about as they have moved beyond the peripherals of gaming and actually engaged with the medium. The nay-sayers who never actually partake with the control interface needed for what we now know as a videogame have little integrity to stand on when you try to reduce your possible interest to just the most basic of needs with a videogame by just watching ( and very little if that). Of course, you’re not going to get it. Relevance to the world will only come when everyone breaks through that passive barrier we’ve all become so accustom to with every other medium.

I’m thinking about this as I watch on television the footage of the absolutely mind-blowing destruction in China in the wake of an unprecedented earthquake, devastation in Myanmar. I’m watching stories about a lifetime public servant’s terminal brain cancer, publicity photos of his family smiling through it all. I’m watching America re-evaluate its national identity after what’s arguably a misstep of a war, gamely accepting that the next leader might be a black man or a woman, something impossible perhaps even a decade ago. I’m watching an energy crisis, an environmental crisis.

Then I go to work and write about video games. Our industry burgeons and swells with money against the backdrop of larger social issues, and on forums everywhere, the majority of the vocal audience wants to know, “does it have multiplayer?” We want to know if the graphics suck or if there will be a sequel.

There is a crisis of conscience here.

Our industry has no crisis of conscience anymore than headlines of major news outlets running with the latest Britney or Angelina fan fodder. The problem here is that there isn’t a problem. Why? Because not everyone wants to live in the “real world” 100% of the time, which is why (fictional)books, music, (serial) television, and movies have before videogames been the escape away from the things “that really matter”. When your not playing a game your living in reports of disasters, the death’s of “real” people, foreclosures, heat waves, droughts, depression, ridiculous energy and fuel cost, everyday chores, and kids if you have them. You know, life stuff. Everyone is entitled to some form of escapism aren’t they? Writing about videogames is some form of escapism in and of itself. Whether your being paid for it or not shouldn’t remove the reality of the situation. Your being paid to write about videogames. The craziness of that shouldn’t be lost anymore than some writing about any other hobbyist/recreational industry.

And lastly:

I would like games, and the work of people like me who write about games, to be able to keep a foot in reality, a thread that runs through the stories of the real world into the stories of the game world. Sometimes. A Final Fantasy Tactics fan at Japanator’s blogs used his feelings about War of the Lions to parallel and organize his own opinion on the war. He’s not even a professional writer, and he’s trying; I respect that. Infamous tipster SurferGirl has said that she hoped to use the buzz around her industry-insider blog to encourage gamers to broaden their views and take an interest in activism. She’s since retired the mysterious blog; perhaps she felt she wasn’t finding success at that.

I’m not implying that all gamers should feel some sort of moral obligation that they wouldn’t otherwise. And god knows that not all games need to carry social weight – let’s let Pokemon be Pokemon, for example. But at the very least, we should be able to write and talk about games in a way that isn’t insular, that doesn’t exclude the crucial stories of the real world. I say “at least,” even though I know what I’m asking is no easy feat, demanding a lexicon that’ll take time and broad effort to evolve. But to me, that’s really the only way to help gaming become truly relevant and inclusive – Miis, waggle and Wii Fit can only go so far.

Now here’s ultimately the biggest issue facing games in the breath of society as a whole. For writers to truly take their writing beyond the customary “how’s the graphics” arena and infuse it with the wider scope of the real world, the real world needs to shed its taboo whoring ways and maybe it’ll be just that much easier for most writers to not feel the need to be insular when that very world makes it seem so easy to attack that of which it doesn’t understand. Sure, it’ll take time for that to mend itself, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that it shouldn’t be this way in the first place and as I may be afraid of, Nintendo may be doing just the opposite of what so many are currently concluding. Is “the videogame is nothing more than a toy” mentality being reinforced by Nintendo when so many previously none gamers only view the Wii as a novelty that they pull out here and there to show off to friends or to play only what came with it, Wii Sports? Its mighty hard to gain that relevance when your viewed as nothing more than a toy.