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ISSUE 120 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/13/2006

Gaming change nears

By Whitney Hills
Copy Editor

Friday, October 13, 2006

Gamers, business execs and analysts around the world are placing bets and pledging allegiances as the $30 billion video game industry anticipates the debut of the seventh generation consoles. Microsoft's Xbox 360 was released on Nov. 22 last year. Its hasty launch (replete with a tsunami of Xtreme hype, production shortages and a shoddy lineup of games) has, as of June, given it a five million unit sales advantage over its rival systems, Sony's Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Wii. The latter two systems will be released in America on Nov. 17 and Nov. 19, respectively.

In the past, such launches have been largely irrelevant to the casual and non-gaming demographics who have no knowledge about or interest in buying a gaming console (or high-end PC) – especially not when the prices start at $400 for an Xbox 360 or $600 for a Playstation 3, excluding peripherals or any actual games. Next month, some things are going to change.

While Sony and Microsoft's marketing emphases are rife with technical jargon and focus on the sheer graphical power of their console's hardware, Nintendo has taken a different route. Its system, the Wii (pronounced "we"), will be sold for $250 and is technically the underdog in terms of its processors (and goofy name). But Nintendo's focus on accessible gameplay is its trump card. The company is aiming to make the Wii appeal both to families and to experienced gamers.

The system's primary controller is the Wiimote, a wireless device capable of sensing motion and orientation. According to developer Shigeru Miyamoto, "rather than make something that would make people wonder if they could use it or not, I wanted to make something that would make people want to pick it up and try using it." It's not surprising that someone unfamiliar with gaming would balk at picking up a standard controller like that of the Playstation 2, what with the cryptic array of buttons, dual thumbsticks and triggers. The Wiimote, on the other hand, looks so similar to the same device used for flipping mindlessly from "Star Trek" to "Seinfeld" that nearly every user is assured a certain degree of comfort.

The gameplay possibilities created by the Wii imply a living room revolution: Dad can perfect his cast in a fishing game, young Skippy can seize with rapture during 3-D Pokémon battles, and in the evenings, Mom can wield the Wiimote to tear through Japanese gangsters with a katana. Oh, and the Wii can also seamlessly surf the Internet, manage photo libraries, and serve as a news and message center for the whole household.

Nintendo's all-inclusive tactic raises the question: why don't more game developers and marketers do this? There's nothing inherently wrong with games and related marketing that target only the hardest of the hardcore, but lowest-common-denominator marketing is often the standard. Can't figure out why more women aren't playing your medieval war game? Let its female characters wear suits of armor instead of a chain-mail bikini, advertise accordingly and watch your sales increase.

Think that World War II game is only going to appeal to kill-happy teenagers? Emphasize the story and historical realism, rather than the arsenal, and older crowds will take interest. Grandma may never fully master wicked riffs in Guitar Hero, but she could still enjoy staving off Alzheimer's with puzzle games like Brain Age.

As with film and television, two people can enjoy the same experience for very different reasons. Almost everyone is engaged by some aspect of gaming, be it immersion, fun, social interaction or challenge. They just don't know it yet.

Copy Editor Whitney Hills is a senior from Chicago, Ill. She majors in English with concentrations in Japan studies, linguistics, and in women’s studies.

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