Nintendo: Destroyer of “Casual” Gaming Turns Savior

The original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is fondly remembered by most gamers, but I hated that thing. I hated the look of the console’s boxy beige exterior. I hated the games’ brownish-green color palettes. The cross-shaped D-pad controller was an abomination. (What was so wrong with the joystick that it had to be abandoned?) I hated Nintendo usurping Atari’s spot as king of video games. Most of all, I hated that Nintendo had killed video games as I knew them: the easy-to-pick-up arcade-style games I’d been brought up with had transformed into marathon-like undertakings filled with secrets discoverable only through dozens of hours of play or $12.95 cheat guides, with end bosses killing you so often–in exactly the same way, over and over again–that I wanted to throw the whole system out the window. Super Mario Bros. wasn’t about being a fun, approachable, ten-minute experience. It was about commitment. To be more specific, a time commitment, of hours and hours…and hours. For me, Nintendo killed console gaming. Or at least, what I considered the spirit of console gaming.

Obviously, I was in the minority. The NES took off, and I wanted no part of it. Seventeen years old, and I was a dinosaur. And how ironic it has been over the past twenty years to hear Nintendo heralded as the king of “old-school gameplay” when it was that very lack of gameplay that drove me–and, I think, a lot of people who had formerly enjoyed video games–out of the market. (An aside: in my case, it was only for a little while. I now own a PS/2, GameCube, Xbox, Nintendo DS, and Xbox 360. I couldn’t stay away forever. And admittedly, I’ve become a Nintendo fan in the process: the GameCube is my favorite of the consoles I own.)

So here comes the Wii, and it’s allegedly going to open the market up to all those people that should have been playing video games all along had they not been shut out by Microsoft and Sony. It’s a nice bit of revisionism on Nintendo’s part. It’s an easy claim to pass off on the media–that the market blew by Nintendo’s supposed decades-long commitment to approachable gameplay–but I actually think it’s Nintendo that’s changed. Look at the pack-in games that come with the Wii versus the NES, Wii Sports versus Super Mario Bros. I don’t think there’s any question that there’s a huge difference. Wii Sports is a game your grandmother could play. (In this context, I’m intending that to be a compliment.) Super Mario Bros., to put it mildly, wasn’t.

I hope the Wii is a hit. I’ll be one of the millions camping out at their local Target on November 19 to pick up their Wiii (plural) as soon as they’re available. And I hope that games like Wii Sports influence not just Nintendo’s future gaming direction, but the industry’s as well. I’ve come around to loving a lot of those complicated games I formerly scorned–Ico, God of War, and Resident Evil 4, to name a few, are great entertainment–but there’s no reason my wife shouldn’t be playing video games as often as I am, and hopefully the Wii will change that.

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