So after all the fanfare surrounding my acquisition of the vaunted X-Box 360 – a bright, shiny bauble that I scoured the Earth, sailed the ocean blue and endured the Seven Trials of Sinbad to attain – I’ve decided to chart a new, more familiar course. I am giving it up.
Wyy would I do such a thing? The answer is Wii.
Yes, the very system I ridiculed in an Aside several months back, mocking its name and declaring Nintendo daft. It turns out, it is I who is positively mad – as in bonkers. No, that’s not right. I didn’t go crazy. I simply had an epiphany.
After three solid months of 360 play – and four years of putting its predecessor through the paces – I’ve come to the realization (as slow as this seems) that I was not having much fun. With the lion’s share of games released for the Microsoft console falling in the realm of first person shooter or Grand Theft Auto clone, I’ve had my fill of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
With the rise of the high definition generation, and its synthesis with the gaming world, I have noticed the increasing trend towards rendering realism. Game developers continually strive to apply a photorealistic sheen on every surface. More time is spent spit-shining pebbles to gleam just right in the midday sun – and less time is spent on actual game play innovation. Hence, we end up with the nth-variation on the same old games – Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six becomes Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter which begat Tom Clancy’s Homeland Defense Warrior which leads to Tom Clancy’s Meter Maid Marauder. And with each successive game, the weapons look and sound more realistic, the soldiers look more rugged (or pretty depending upon your proclivity in these matters) while the artificial intelligence (AI) and narrative construction remain as dodgy and stilted as ever. Now, I don’t mean to simply knock Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six for these flaws, but when you slap Clancy’s name above the title, you better have some means of telling an interesting and involving story. Hey, at the very least, maybe you could teach ol’ Tom a thing or two about plot construction. (Seriously, if I never have to read another ten page aside on the grooves in a submarine screw, it will be too soon).
Now, I’m a typical guy. Sure, I try to add some depth to my persona by applying little flourishes like the ability to construct and write a complete sentence as well as my running tally of 2,186 diapers changed by me in the past three years (…correction, we’re now at 2,187) – but at the end of the day, I am your typical dumb white guy. I love me my sports. I never miss a Pats game and check in on the Sox every night (Although I no longer watch every game from start to finish, that’s what the World Championship will do to ya’ – allow you to relax a bit). I also love big, bombastic action pics. I’m a sucker for a B-movie (toss in some mutated ant-lions chasing bikinied co-eds and I’m sound as a pound baby). But somewhere along this bumpy road, the so-called ‘mature’ games have left me numb. Simply put, they now bore the hell out of me.
I’d like to chalk this aversion to going Pixelated Postal to my current perch on the mantle of fatherhood, but that’s not it. In fact, I am a staunch believer in allowing all versions of free expression, and feel that hack’ em up, shoot ‘em up games have their place. They can be wonderfully therapeutic. The problem is, you play fifty Doom clones and you see straight through the curtain. The graphics get glossier (or grimier depending upon the milieu) but the tricks remain the same. Scripted sequences insure you will always experience the same thing no matter how you change your approach. Monster closets spew forth Cyberdemons and fireball tossing Imps with no end in site – until you cross the invisible barrier the programmer has laid in the code that effectively turns the crank on these critters. Although, I think Sean has a better term for this – monster hoses – as the stream doesn’t stop until you hit Point B.
All this leads to my epiphany. The games I’ve had the most fun with in my life are the adventures – those games that take me away to some fantastic world. Something free from my mundane nine-to-five. I don’t want to blast away rebels on the streets of Guadalnublar when I can be traipsing through the land of Hyrule, my ‘link’ to this magic world a noble elf, an intrepid space pirate or hell, a heroic plumber. Nintendo gets it. Their first party games are as polished as these entertainments come. They’re the Pixar of the interactive entertainment industry – producing treasures that even when they’re not as good as their own benchmark – they stand tall among everyone else.
Which is what led me to change my opinion and choose Wii. Although the spec sheet for both the PS3 and the 360 is a mile long, the Wii has shown me something the other two systems haven’t. The promise of innovation and more importantly – fun. Right out of the gate, they are offering up Next Gen incarnations of Mario, Zelda and Metroid (gaming’s holy trinity). The downside – they’re not designed for HD. The upside – I’m a few years away from investing in HD – so the benefits that the 360 and PS3 bring to the table right now are lost on me – as I’m funneling their high def picture through a standard def display. The Wii is designed around standard def – meaning my picture will look pretty damn good using component cables on my 36” flat screen. So while the graphics may not appear ripped from the headlines, they do look stellar. In fact, they stay in that sweet spot of looking like a game. I live in reality. I don’t need to play it.
This may seem like a lot of words for a subject considered silly to some – and I always feel the need to justify my passion – but I’ve been playing these games since I was 5 years old. Something happened way back then to merge this pastime to my DNA. This is my gardening. This is my photography. This is my hobby. Granted, the playing time has vastly diminished over the years and if pressed I could offer plenty of evidence to support my case that games are a marginal part of my life today (would I have the career, family and friends I do now if I were a pasty white cavefish?). These days, an hour or two at the end of the evening while the rest of my world slumbers, works wonders as therapy. With the shear volume of tasks that conspire to raise my stress level, a couple hours transported to Hyrule or Zebes or (Well, where the hell does Mario live? It should be the Bronx but it looks a lot like The Mushroom Kingdom) – is a nice escape.
I think that’s why I always glom onto those news reports that an hour spent playing Super Monkey Ball increase surgery success rates among doctors – or news that elderly people who play videogames exhibit greater mental ability and cut their risks of memory degradation and Alzheimer’s disease by ‘x’ amount. Like I said, I’m always justifying. I should stop that. It could be worse, I could be out drinking every night and struggling to remember the names of my kids – Cecil and Ariel.
I’ve sort of meandered but the point is – I gave this a lot of thought and have come to the realization that if I am going to continue using games as a stress relief and pastime, I better damn well be having fun. That’s why Wii is for me. If given the choice of playing the new Zelda over the new Halo – I take Zelda any day. Metroid bests Mercenaries. Mario over Doom?
Hey, the Goomba beats the goblin any day of the week.