A to Z Challenge: (W)ii Sports

WiiSportsSay what you will about the Nintendo Wii (and don’t worry, I will), but its motion controlled gaming idea was kind of brilliant. But let me just back up a second first.

Nintendo has been one of the biggest names in gaming for decades now, and in November of 2006 they released their seventh-generation console, the Wii (pronounced the same as “we”). At first there was some doubt that the Wii would be able to compete with the Playstation 3 (released at the same time) and the Xbox 360 (released a full year earlier), both of which were much more robust, with more powerful processors, greater graphics capabilities, and more backing from big-name game developers. But despite the fact that Nintendo’s console was inferior in many ways, they enjoyed breakaway success because of their plan to target a much broader demographic than had previously been done. The Wii introduced motion-controlled gaming with their “Wii Remote” pointing device, which made the games that used it simper, and more intuitive to play. This mechanic, which was so different from the usual controllers full of buttons, triggers, and thumbpads, made it easier for people who otherwise wouldn’t play games to join in – which, of course, was Nintendo’s intent.

The perfect example of this is ‘Wii Sports’, which came packaged with the Wii as a way of showing off the motion-control capabilities. To play the game you would first create a little character to represent yourself (a “Mii”), and if you chose you could also make characters to represent dozens of other possible players. Once you had your player you could choose between five sports: tennis, baseball, bowling, golf, or boxing. In tennis, baseball, and golf the Wii Remote would act as a stand-in for your racket, bat, or club, with the equipment on the screen moving in conjunction with the remote’s movement. In bowling and boxing the Remote served to tell the game where your hand was and thus whether you were performing the proper movements.

The system was simple, fun, quick to learn, and encouraged lots of players to play together. It was a dynamic in which a 60-year-old who’d never touched a video game in their life could easily pick up and hold their own against a young kid with dozens of games under their belt. And people ate that up. All of a sudden entire families, from the youngest to the oldest, were playing video games together.

Yeah, okay, the graphics are lame, but all you had to do to learn was PRETEND to swing a bat!
Yeah, okay, the graphics are lame, but all you had to do to learn was PRETEND to swing a bat!

I can remember when my husband and I first bought our Wii. My parents were visiting and we spent half the night playing ‘Wii Bowling’, laughing our heads off, and having a hell of a time. The next morning we were all genuinely sore, having spent all evening exercising without even realizing it. Soon after that my parents got a Wii of their own, and together we made Mii characters for tons of family members. We’d have big family parties, filled with drinking, eating, and hysterics as we challenged each other to rounds of all five sports. Soon my husband’s aunt bought a Wii and we’d play there as well. My cousins bought one, my best friends bought one…people who hadn’t played a video game since Pong was the big thing were purchasing Wii consoles left, right, and center.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Wii and its bundled ‘Wii Sports’ game are not the be-all and end-all of gaming. In fact, it didn’t take terribly long for people to get bored and stop playing – after all, how long can you really play the same simple game over and over again? There were also a lot of haters of the variety that can’t follow basic instructions; lots of people refused to use the little wrist strap on the remote and subsequently smashed their TVs by accidentally letting go of the thing in mid-swing. On top of that, plenty of hardcore gamers soon learned to loathe the Wii, since lots of game developers weren’t willing to deal with the weaker hardware, thus making the Wii’s game library woefully small. To be perfectly blunt, of all the people I know who have a Wii, the overwhelming majority of them haven’t touched their console in years. Looking at these factors, it’s easy to look at the Wii and see it as an underpowered machine with a clever gimmick that had no staying power.

But they also sold over 101 million units, so I guess there’s something to be said about that.

Did you have a Wii? If not, did someone in your family have a Wii? Don’t like to me. What was your favorite Wii Sport and how long did it take for you to get sick of it? Please share!

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