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Wii U: A new beginning

Can the new home console from Nintendo affect the gaming landscape?

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Just a day ago, Nintendo launched its latest console: the Wii U. Stupid name aside, I am really interested to get my hands on this arguably next-gen (maybe?) console. When the original Wii launched over six years ago, I waited for over five hours outside of a Circuit City with my brother and a number of random, rather young gamers in the blistering cold just to get my hands on one. It turned out that the Wii came to have a massive amount of mass market appeal and I was glad I had camped out since it took months before stores could be relied on to have a stock for more than just a few hours.

Wii U Countdown

In the end though, I came away quite disappointed with my purchase of the Wii. I mean, I definitely got my money’s worth out of it, but Nintendo spun it as a revolution in video games, something that would drastically change the way we play games. While the system certainly had a few titles that were a major departure from standard gameplay, most of them were things that I did not really want to play. Essentially, I drank Nintendo’s Kool Aid until the punch bowl was dry and came away years later with only a handful of great games and certainly no gaming revolution. For this reason (and the fact that my current monetary situation is a bit troublesome), I am sitting the Wii U’s launch out… for the most part.

I am an addict of video games journalism, if journalism is the right word (and I don’t think it is). Already tonight, I have read three different reviews of the system and watched a handful of videos, all of which are really showcasing the same things. It got me thinking about why I am so hooked on video games, all video games… even video games I don’t like. Simply put, video games have always been present in my life. Some of my very first memories are playing Mario on the Nintendo Entertainment System that my mom got for her 30th birthday, a present that seems really odd to have been given to her in retrospect.

Wii U console

To me, video games are society’s next great medium. In fact, you could argue that they are not the next great medium, but today’s great medium since they already outsell nearly ever other type of mainstream entertainment. I just think that they have a lot of growing to do still before they can be held to the same standards and expectations of film, books, music and the visual arts. Either way, video games have always excited and entertained me much in the way that I believe many people felt entertained by moving pictures at the turn of the last century or at the dawn of the novel as a form of mass market entertainment around nearly the same time. All of the mediums that we hold in such high esteem today were once seen as little more than trash, something to keep the unwashed masses entertained while the rich, intelligent and generally privileged treated themselves only to the last generation’s medium of choice.

While it may seem crazy now, there were countless people who once argued that novels of any kind were not only rubbish but they certainly were not art. Growing up playing video games my entire life, I have seen this perception firmly take hold of society (Liberman’s congressional hearings on video game violence) to become more and more out of touch (Ebert’s love of saying video games aren’t art). While they are certainly not held on the same level as these other mediums (nor should they be at this point in time), the societal shift in the perception of video games can be easily seen.

Pure Pwnage gaming

Video games, due to their close tie with technology, are a rapidly evolving medium in a way unlike any other. Just in my brief lifetime, I have gone from playing top of the line technology featuring a two-dimensional Mario fighting just two or three enemies at a time to massive, living, breathing worlds that can be explored from nearly every conceivable angle that are populated with hundreds, if not thousands of characters, items, enemies and more. Considering the massive changes I have already personally experienced in just 20 years, it is extremely exciting to think of what the future may hold. Reading a book is largely the same now as it was two hundred years ago, but playing a video game from today and one from just ten years ago is a drastically different, almost incomparably different, experience. That is just so exciting to me, to think of all the ways that storytelling, interactivity and presentation could change over just the next two years as Microsoft and Sony come to the table with their latest consoles and we continue to see the PC space grow into even more advanced technology each and every year.

While it remains to be seen if the Wii U will finally fulfill Nintendo’s original promise of revolutionizing video gaming as we know it or if it will remain stuck in the middle of two bases (the innovative and the traditional), I am excited to see its release play out over the next year. Even more interesting will be how Microsoft and Sony respond to the console’s success or failure which will be readily apparent by that point and how much (or little) the new Xbox and Playstation will attempt to change modern gaming conventions or simply stick with what they know works (a standard controller and prettier graphics). Starting now, video games are going to get a lot more interesting so why not come and join in on the fun?

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