Media, Technology, and Education

Buying a Wii

So is it strange for a 45-year-old woman to covet a Wii? I’ve been intrigued by this game system since I first saw one two years ago. So I finally bought one. I’ve been looking around in Best Circuit Shack-type stores but everyone has been sold out. Last week, I bit the bullet and ordered one online. I went all out–extra remote, numchuk, classic controller and so on. And to top it all off–I got DDR to go with it. It arrived today via UPS and it took only about 20 minutes to set it up.

Evelyn and I played all the sports right away. It turns out that I’m really good at tennis but she’s really good at boxing. She’s a brute and I should be eating strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. In the boxing game, I haven’t quite figured out how to protect my face and body but score hits on her face and body at the same time. She beat me in a decision and then in our second match, she outright knocked me out in the first round! We had a blast and were both sweating profusely by the time we were done. We got so tired out by the sports that we haven’t even tried DDR yet. We need to get another dance pad before we really have a great time with it.

One interesting thing to me about the Wii is the how poor the graphics are. For years, game reviews have focused on increased realism in the rendering of the game worlds. The technological challenges involved in rendering a tree blowing in the wind in a realistic manner are great but the average person doesn’t get excited about those challenges. The Wii moves us in the direction of ignoring the graphics to focus on the game play and how the player interacts with the game world. In the baseball game, for example, the Miis run around without any legs. In the boxing game, the Miis’ hands are separated from their bodies. And yet there’s something about the interface that has captured the imagination of all kinds of people, especially people who aren’t typically gamers. While Evelyn and I were playing, we both got into the games with our entire bodies. In fact, when Evelyn would serve in tennis, she would use her left hand to toss an imaginary ball into the air. Her left hand didn’t have any sort of controller in it and so she did that movement solely for her own brain, rather than for anything in the game itself. I think that’s the key to the appeal of the game–your movements in the real world are almost directly mapped into the game world. The manner in which we use the Wii remote (and the numchuk) are mapped into the game world in a way that makes us feel as though the remote is both a part of our world and a part of the game world. It exists on the boundary, the threshold, of the real, physical world and the game world. Like the dance pad in DDR, it is the threshold object (what Janet Murray would call the “liminal object”) that engages us, immerses us in the world of the game.

With the success of the Wii, all kinds of companies are focusing on different ways to interact with games. Ars Technica today has a review of a new game controller that sounds interesting in the way that DDR’s dance pads and the Wii are interesting. It’s called the Novint Falcon. It remains to be seen which of these new hardware interfaces are going to be successful but I think the focus on them is a positive development.

Article written by:

I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.

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