As a 26-year-old gamer, I had the good fortune to grow up during the last few years when school was a viable place to learn valid gaming information. Every once and a while there was that kid who had "an uncle who worked at Nintendo," but no one ever believed them. As far as video game information was concerned, the schoolyard was Thunderdome. No one really knew what was true and what wasn't until they tried it. Even then, it was easy to make a case that maybe they just weren't doing it right. Gaming was a mystery, and while Nintendo Power and other publications gave us the tips and tricks we needed, the most interesting information was always the schoolyard hearsay. I imagine an entire generation of kids who grew up playing Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, stumbling their way through it, trying to make sense of its bizarre design choices and puzzling sense of linearity.
The mass proliferation of the Internet changed all of this. As more people had access, it became a useful source for useless information. Yes, you could look for real information about important things, like medicine or the news of the world, or you could go right to one of many terrible designed Geocities fan websites, and learn all about your favorite games. When the technology improved, it was easy to just go to YouTube and look up a video, showing you exactly what to do. The point is, you had to become disconnected from the game to progress.
Nintendo released the Wii U in North America on November 18 of this year. After a large, Day one patch to flesh out the system's operating system, gamers were properly introduced to the Miiverse: Nintendo's own take on a message board, Twitter-esque social network. Every game has its own board, and users have been populating them with artwork, screenshots, and helpful hints, all without properly dislodging from the games they are playing. If you're having trouble with something, you can make a post on that game's board with a screen shot of where you're at, asking for help or a possible solution. In the case of some of the more popular games, you're likely to get a response in a timely manner.
Miiverse has brought back the schoolyard, with all of its joy, and all of its little tics. I've seen people post, asking where secret exits are in various levels of New Super Mario Bros U, and I've commented on a few myself, helping people through whatever they are struggling with in-game. Maybe it's because a lot of the early adopters are the typical Nintendo crowd, the whole of the Miiverse community seems surprisingly positive. Perhaps it's because the moderation keeps it from becoming a cesspool, making it less conducive to be a total dick to someone. Regardless, it's a feature that feels severely undersold initially, but it is proving to be one of the more popular functions of the console.
It feels a little weird to say that my favorite gaming moment of the year comes from an ancillary function of an operating system instead of an actual game, but I've really found myself spending a lot of time just looking at what people have been doing with it. While it is heavily moderated, it's a brand new frontier. Certain boards for shovelware games have been taken over and turned into twisted fan communities. Destructoid has, for all intents, taken over the Rabbid's Land board, turning it into an impromptu, Willem Dafoe fanclub. Giant Bomb has turned the Funky Barn community into their own playhouse. Popular games will have interesting, informative communities, low budget, shovelware titles will take on lives of their own.
For the first time in years, I got a feeling of true joy from the video game community. Just turning on the console, and watching the lobby fill up with Miis talking about whatever game they've been playing feels far more lively and real than the overall coldness of the Playstation 3's XMB OS, or the ad-infested, dystopian wasteland that the Xbox Live Dashboard has become. It feels personal, something I feel has been missing for a very long time.
Just seeing people show their love of these games and working together, all without disconnecting from the system, feels intensely satisfying. When I turn on my Wii U, I'm overjoyed just to look and see what the denizens of the Miiverse are up to. The fact that this system is going to grow, adding in smartphone and 3DS functionality is even more exciting.
I know that the Miiverse, as with the Wii U itself, is not quite perfect. I don't expect it to be, but it has already had an impact on how I've been playing games on the Wii U. It's the first time I've been back to the schoolyard since I was a child, and that's an experience I've valued far more than any individual game I've played this year.