Nintendo’s consoles are notorious for innovating the world of video games. The NES, for example, brought a level of complexity to video games that weren’t possible prior, thanks to its advanced tech and affordable price. The Game Boy made handheld gaming affordable and long-lasting, sacrificing graphics for battery life. Even the short-lived Virtual Boy, arguably Nintendo’s biggest regret, still showed that VR gaming was potentially possible. Amongst all their systems, none were more unusual than the Wii, Nintendo’s fifth foray in the home console market.
Wii Sports: A different approach to gaming
From the get-go, Nintendo made their intentions with the Wii clear. That goal was to tap into the hidden, or “casual,” gaming market. Past gaming systems largely preached to the converted, “hardcore” gamer, but Nintendo instead catered to mom, dad, Bobby and Sue. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the console’s bundled game, a compilation known as Wii Sports.
While bundling games with Nintendo consoles dates back to Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Wii Sports was an oddity on its own. Containing five games (bowling, tennis, golf, boxing and baseball), Wii Sports felt less like a traditional video game and more like a series of tech demos for the Wii itself. Competent, effective demos, but still demos nonetheless.
When the Wii was first launched in 2006, I was undergoing a transitional phase. I began my third year of high school, hence my interests were pretty standard teenager: girls, hormones and bloodlust. I was, in theory, not the Wii’s initial demographic. And yet, being a fan of past Nintendo consoles including the GameCube, I decided to give it a try anyway. When I finally received the Wii as a late Chanukkah present in 2007, I was curious as to whether Wii Sports was really all it advertised as. Sure, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was the more enticing game at the time, but it was Wii Sports that’d really make-or-break the experience.
Hook, line and sinker!
Surprisingly enough, Wii Sports ended up being a system seller for me. It wasn’t the deepest of games, or even the most interesting, but its simple, pick-up-and-play approach meant that I could come back to it regularly. And given how it relied heavily on the WiiMote to work, which itself had a learning curve, it almost felt like a better example of what the Wii was capable of than a standard port of an admittedly-solid GameCube game. Not to mention, its casual nature meant that I could play it with my brothers and cousins at family gatherings with ease.
This fascination with Wii Sports ended up extending to Wii Play and, later, Wii Fit, both of which also felt like tech demoes for the Wii. In Wii Play‘s case, the game had a similar draw to Wii Sports: not deep, not terribly interesting, but fun enough to keep coming back to. Plus, it came with a free WiiMote. And Wii Fit, which was advertised as an exercising vehicle, was surprisingly effective at getting me active while playing it, something I never would’ve anticipated.
The Wii resistance begins
And I think that’s where the ire for this franchise stemmed from. Many of my fellow gamers at the time, particularly Nintendo fans, weren’t happy with the concept of casual Nintendo games being a hot commodity. For them, video games were a serious hobby, not a “cheap” one. It also felt like Nintendo was mocking them for being physically inactive, demanding that they work for their reward. That they also routinely lost to grandma and grandpa, whom they dubbed “fake” gamers, at relatively simple games further complicated matters.
I understand the frustration somewhat, especially as someone who wasn’t in the best shape myself. But I still think that the ire isn’t entirely warranted. For one, video games are meant to be a communal experience. Part of what made them so great to begin with was their accessibility, something the Wii games definitely were at their core. Perhaps they went about it a different way, but that’s not a slight against them. If anything, taking the unconventional route was something to be applauded, as it meant that they were taking actual risks.
“It’s not about you.”
And two, so what if the Wii games were meant for grandma and grandpa? What do gamers have against grandma and grandpa anyway? They might lack 30 hours to dedicate to a AAA title, sure. That doesn’t mean that they still can’t appreciate a video game if marketed the right way! I see this all the time when I work out on Wednesdays; my local fitness centre contains a TV, complete with a copy of Wii Fit ready to go at a moment’s notice. Whenever one of the trainers wants to help an elderly rehab client with their balance, that’s what they use. Who am I to deprive that client of their enjoyment, simplistic as it may be?
But even outside of the ingrained ageism, there’s also a bigger issue at play here: gamers are so used to everything being catered to them. They’ve become so insistent that they be the focus, not realizing that it’s not always about them. I think this is most apparent in the extreme backlash over Wii Music during E3 2008, when everyone dubbed Nintendo “dead” because of a silly demonstration.
Honestly, that demonstration never bothered me in the slightest. Was it silly? Yes. Was the game good? No idea, I never ended up playing it. But it didn’t matter because, simply put, it wasn’t meant for me. The game was simply a collection of silly music games for those who liked music, nothing more. To claim that Nintendo “no longer cared”, especially in a year that saw the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, was entitlement at its finest.
Preaching to the unconverted
I think this also taught Nintendo a valuable lesson, something they eventually brought forward with 1-2 Switch a few years back. There’s money to be made in catering to casual gamers. Big money, at that! Does this mean that the games will always be “good”? No, not necessarily. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t exist alongside the dozens of shooting, platforming and fighting games released each year. The gaming market’s flexible enough to accommodate them too.
Besides, who really cares if casual games like Wii Sports, Wii Play, Wii Fit and Wii Music exist? Is it really that big of a crime for the unconverted to enjoy video games as well? Isn’t this what we gamers have wanted for years, for the masses to take our medium of entertainment seriously? And if that requires sucking it up so that people can get small, infrequent bursts of enjoyment from pieces of programmable plastic, then isn’t that worth it? After all, you never know what the next generation of hardcore gamers will consider their gateway onto the gaming scene!