But I want to issue a Wii Warning.
No, not the kind of Wii safety manual warning pictured here. A different kind of warning, to game designers and game critics and game researchers.
I want to suggest that we ought NOT to be talking about the wonders of Wii in terms of "simulation."
Consider the latest issue of Game Developers Magazine. There's a great post-mortem of a Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam skating game for the Wii console. In general, a really excellent read. But I was troubled by part of the article, in which the developer (Toby Schadt) discuss why the Wii is so great and how the game sought to take advantage of the new controller.
From the post-mortem:
The first thing we investigated was how the player changes direction and whether we could use the Wii remote to introduce a new way of turning. Tilting the controller to turn was the obvious solution, as it mimics the way skaters turn their boards. That's why the Wii is so compelling--the way you control your character in a game is a more realistic analog to what you would do in the real world, as opposed to pressing buttons.
This reads, at first glance, like a perfectly valid assessment of the pleasures of Wii interaction. Indeed, I would say it perfectly encapsulates current conventional wisdom among many Wii writers and designers (and subsequently, players, who are influenced by reviews and such). You can even see a funky Hong Kong accessory kit for the Wii that "brings you more realism for playing with Wii."
But: 1) I don't buy it, and 2) I think it could retard the future of game design to talk about Wii interaction like this-- all "mimics" and "realistic analogs".
I certainly get that the Wii controller is way more fun and cool because it's not just pushing abstract combinations of buttons. But you know what? I think it's way more fun and cool because MOVING VIGOROUSLY--shaking, waving, pumping, pointing, and so on--is more fun that pressing buttons. Not because it's a more "realistic analog" of what a game avatar is doing. Just because it's REALLY more fun.
Don't get me wrong. I know that the Wii gameplay is MUCH more intuitive than traditional console games precisely because there is a better analogy between real-world gesture and in-game action. I don't want to minimize that. I know it's cool. And I know, more importantly, that it also helps make the game system transparent to "non-gamer" folks who get scared off by abstract console input.
Let me try to say it another way. Wii is awesome because you are REALLY playing. You are not vicariously playing through an avatar whose movements you immersive yourself in. You are REALLY doing stuff, REALLY sweating, REALLY pumping out endorphins. I know that you're not REALLY "skating" or REALLY "bowling", in the case of the Tony Hawk game and Wii sports respectively. But you are REALLY using your body in totally fun, original, happy-making ways.
The real stuff you are doing also lets you be more expressive as a gamer. (Just watch some YouTube videos --like this, this, or this--for evidence of that.) This is no small thing. The opportunity to joyfully perform physically for an audience -- face to face, as much Wii play is among friends and family-- or online, in the case of Wii demo videos, is a truly awesome thing.
Indeed, the fact that there is a real, live, embodied performance happening when a player engages the Wii games creates the kind of gameplay legibility that enables "non-gamers" to get in the game, and that creates a setting where you can really cheer on other players. (Very enthusiast Guitar Hero players and most DDRers, of course, also fall into this category where real physical performance is produced.)
So when you play Wii games, are you simulating? Or are you REALLY playing and performing? I say the Wii does not simulate. The Wii is real.
For me, this is a subtle but extremely important difference. I don't want game designers to make more and more "immersive" gestural games, where the goal is to more perfectly map your real gesture to the characters' game-world action. Instead, I want game designers to make more and more FUN gestural games, where the goal is to make the players' movement as fun and addictive and legible and expressive as possible.
This is a quality of life issue. Better psychological immersion into a digitally-represented game world does not inherently improve quality of life for the player. More active immersion--if we think of Wii immersion as the ability of a player to become "one with the machine", a kind of cybernetic immersion--does inherently improve quality of life for the player, by increasing physical expressivity, producing high performance joy, improving health, and creating game settings where fa much greater range of friends and family members can come together and have fun.
So when you're loving your Wii, remember: Do Not Simulate! Play and Perform FOR REAL.