(What follows is more quickly written statement of personal bewilderment than a carefully constructed or purposeful argument. It's not a rant really, more a disconnected, stream-of-consciousness act of thinking... Outloud? Well, no. On paper? Not exactly. Well, whatever.)
Sometimes I think it must almost suck to be Nintendo. Yes, they're making massive profits. Yes, they're turning these profits by selling a half-antiquated/half-gimmicky piece of hardware at something-more-than-cost while the mini-PCs/home entertainment systems/personal IMAX theatres offered by other console makers are being sold at an ever-increasing loss. Yes, they're a large, ruthless, calculating corporation who have a history of using anti-competitive practices to crush their opposition, at least until their competition became other large, ruthless calculating corporations.
But, Lenin forgive me, when I see the criticisms offered against them in gaming message boards and the comments sections of countless N4G news articles and watch their stuttering convict-with-the-IQ-of-an-eight-year-old-seated-on-death-row attempts to defend themselves, like the "core gamer" statements made by the company yesterday, I can't help but empathize, if only a tiny, tiny bit.
Wait, let me explain.
Not long ago, I had an elderly professor who was clearly in the middle to latter stages of some form of mental deterioration. This man was, at one point in career, a prolific and influential literary scholar. He had internalized countless rules and standards that he applied to his research and expected his students to apply to his work. However, because of his condition, he could not articulate these standards to his students. His lectures became a series of vocabulary words and phrases--left unexplained because he no longer had the capacity to explain them--which he repeated endlessly. When questioned, he would repeat these words and phrases with no further explanation, but with ever increasing belligerence and frustration. This lead all of his students to resent him, since they were being chastised for failing to meet standards that had never been clearly explained to them and which often seemed dated or self-contradictory, and it led the poor professor to grow angrier and more frustrated and, as a result, more recalcitrant and sure of his infallibility. (By the way, if you are ever at Penn State University and have a chance to take a course with the esteemed Dr. Bernard Bell... don't.)
When I read the gaming community's reactions to the Wii, I think of that professor. And when I see Nintendo's sometimes apologetic, sometimes defensive, but never fully comprehending responses, I think of his students.
Too often the criticisms of Nintendo feel like a jumble of demanding, belligerent words and phrases from gamer vocabulary, culled from console history or its contemporary competitors and demanded without justification or awareness of self-contradiction. High definition. Storage solution. Voice Chat. No, better voice chat. More games from popular franchises. Less focus on old franchises, more focus on innovation. More games from long dormant franchises. Games that remind us of Orcarina of Time and Mario 64. Games that don't remind us of Orcarina of Time or Mario 64. More motion control. Less Wii-Waggle. Better online multiplayer. More split screen multiplayer. Deeper single player experiences. Better third party support. Now what happened to our first party games? And on and on, ad nauseum.
But don't get me wrong. Gamers, unlike my former professor, are not suffering from the onset of senility. They aren't scatter-brained or inarticulate. They just appear that way when taken as a whole. Almost every complaint above could be--and has been--justified lucidly by their proponents. The problem is that they are not coming from and single person. In fact, Nintendo, moreso than its competitors, has a to appeal to several different groups of players with very different expectations from and definitions of gaming.
First, you have the favorite scapegoat of many who are critical of the Wii: the casual gamer. The casual gamer expects a few, apparently simple things. They want their system (and its software) to be reasonabluy inexpensive. They want games that offer a fresh experience and quick immersion. They want gaming to be a social experience (and, what's more, a friendly social experience). When they get upset and/or feel their needs/desires are not being met, they won't write blogs or articles to vent their frustration, but they will stop buying consoles and software. And, since they've been the driving force behind Nintendo's rise to first place in both home and hand-held gaming, this would be a massive blow to the company.
Meanwhile, there is the High Def Next Gen Hard Core Dual Analog User Generated Content 28 Man (or Woman) Online Deathmatch Gamer. This player's perceptions of what is/is not gaming are largely shaped by the last two generations of gaming consoles. Andwhat they want is fairly straightforward. They want the Wii to offer the same options and same level of graphical polish as its competitors. They want to buy the system and not have to feel that their version of each multi-platform release will be intrinsically inferior than that of their friends/social competitors. When they are displeased, there will be articles and there will be flame wars and they will see that their complaints are answered or, at least, explained.
Yes, yes, you say, we know this. It's the old hardcore/casual dichotemy, right? Well, yeah, but that's not all Nintendo has to deal with, because there's a third group whose demands turn what would otherwise be a bipolar debate into full blown dementia.
The Nintendo Nostalgics. These individuals generally depict themselves as members of the latter category, but their demands are actually very, very different. What they want is not a totally new experience or a of-the-times experience with heavy lip gloss, but rather therelive an old experience. Mind you, they don't want to play Orcarina of Time again. No, it's not that simple. They have played it again and again and again. But it no longer feels like it once did. No, they want to play new Zelda game that feels like Orcarina of Time did. They want to game like they were 14 and naive, not 24 and hopelessly jaded. (Yes, okay, speaking from personal experience here.) And their complaints, particularly when they are seen as one with the wish-I-had-a-real-next-gen-system crowd, are what make everything oh-so-confusing for Nintendo. They don't want innovation, exactly. They want to relive an emotional high. They don't want high definition graphics or voice chat or an external hard drive. They want to feel how they did when they first plugged a third and, my god, fourth controller into a console without a goofy, bulky adapter, or the the moment when they first felt a controller shake in their hands after a blow and promptly dropped it over the side of the living room sofa. And when they are given gifts that are simply "next gen" or "hard core," they only grow more, not less, embittered. In short, they wanted to see Kid Icarus at E3, and they got voice chat.
And this is why I sympathize with Nintendo. They've lived long enough to give birth to three very different children, and now one of those children is an obnoxious toddler, banging on pots and pans (or holding the Wiimote to their mouth like a saxophone), one is an adolescent, demanding they empty their wallets on trendy sneakers and social status symbols (and an external hard drive), and the third is a calloused, battered adult, fantasizing about their lost virginity and the simple joys of their first paper route (and solving the Water Temple all over again). And, of course, there's that nagging fear of the onset of senility...