There has been no shortage of people’s thoughts and comments about Nintendo’s next console. The word “potential” has been thrown around a lot, but potential to do what has been pretty ambiguous. I won’t be getting into the common questions about seeing Link in HD, 3rd party support, Nintendo’s online network, specs, and if it can use 2 controllers. I will be addressing the biggest area of potential that intrigues me as a gamer who loves games as a story-telling medium.
My hope is that the video game industry grows into a story-telling device on par or with, or even eclipsing film, television, and literature. I believe there is more inherent power in video games than those forms due to it being interactive. The interactivity of video games has been minimally mined to create the type of emotionally or intellectually moving experiences that are on par with Kurosawa’s “Ikiru”, Doestoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamozov”, The Italian realism film movement, or countless other classic novels. There have definitely been great and memorable moments in video game stories, but they are closer to Star Wars than any piece of fiction that deals with existentialism, religion, death, love, relationships, or social justice issues with any meaning.
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This may seem like a tangent from my topic, but it is the groundwork for where I think video games can go, and how the Wii U could begin to take us there. Nintendo has accomplished an incredible feat with the Wii by getting a mass of people who were not gamers to go buy their system. Apple has gone even further by making gamers out of everyone with their touch interface that is now a universal technology for all mobile phones.
I believe the biggest entry to barrier for non-gamers to play a deep game is the user interface. Nintendo and Apple have simplified that process, and the mass market has responded big time. However, deep stories have yet to be seen consistently on either of those platforms. Conversely, story is often touted as a big deal for most games on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, even if they don’t turn out to be all that profound. If Nintendo now has a system that can give us the visceral experience of story based games with a streamlined interface, it could be the boon that brings video game stories to the masses. In turn more talented story-tellers would be drawn to the industry to tell deeper more thoughtful and artistically challenging narratives. The point though is not to make video games more mainstream per se, but to open up the video game world to more talented writers and visionaries.
Maybe non-gamers sitting down to play a game for a story seems like a stretch, but consider the amount of stories that are consumed by the masses today. The amount of time and money spent on movies, television shows, books, etc. is incredible. People love stories, and if a home console can be a new experience to engage in a great story, then it would appeal to large audiences. Hardcore and casual gamers alike already know how to use a touch screen, and know there are deep game-play experiences possible through them. Removing that entry to barrier for many could propel stories for games to a new level. Games would not have to be based on shooting and killing. Exploration, relationships, dialogue, choice, and more could be explored more as the moment to moment interaction.
The video game industry needs more talented story-tellers, not just people who can tell a story that’s bracketed around shooting stuff. Touch-interface (Wii U) and voice recognition (Kinect)are opportunities to direct a story completely divorced from typical game mechanics. Developers should use simplicity to their advantage when story comes first.
Although my hopes and dreams are high, I am very skeptical that this potential will be reached by the Wii U. The biggest issue to story taking a step forward is simply Nintendo’s reputation. Has Nintendo ever been known for their stories? I know the Mario RPGs are highly regarded, but those have never been praised as true hallmarks in story-telling. Nintendo’s strength has and always will be mechanics and fun game-play. Those are not faults, but it is simply who they are. It would be foolish to think Nintendo would suddenly make a game that rivals the story in Red Dead Redemption or Uncharted.
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“Potential” and “possibilities” are two words that usually end up in disappointment without a specific vision to implement them. I actually believe almost as much potential could still happen with Kinect for story-telling, with its voice and facial recognition (think L.A. Noire’s/Mass Effect conversation mechanics), yet those vague promises about potential have yet to be seen as well. Just like with the Kinect, the Wii U’s marketing has been mostly about vague possibilities. So far no one has even mentioned the possibilities with engaging in a meaningful story. None of the tech demos or hype has led me to believe that anyone is even thinking about it. I truly hope I’m wrong though.
Ultimately I don’t care who it is, as long as it happens soon. The technology is available for new story driven experiences. Who will take the next step forward?
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