I was four years old, maybe five, when my family purchased an NES. This was the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt bundle, but of course everyone went straight for the Mushroom Kingdom immediately (did anyone ever play Duck Hunt straight away out of the unboxing?). I'd played the original Super Mario Bros. once or twice at the local arcade, but this was the first time it had ever been in my home, playable at my discretion, without regularly paced demands for quarters. It was also the first hands-on with the NES controller, which is the bulk of what I'd like to talk about. Remember your first time seeing this?
Ah, yes. 1-1. It seems pretty easy to us looking back, particularly in light of the nightmarish challenges that Miyamoto had yet to throw at us in later worlds, but for my first time it was not without perils. The one I remember distinctly was the pit towards the end, at the bottom of the third row of screenshots in that image. I made it to that pit and was terrified of falling in (remember, I was four or five, and small obstacles tend to seem bigger back then). So I handed the controller to my older sister, who seemed a bit more confident, and asked her to jump over it for me. She did, and graciously handed the controller back to let me finish the level.
It was when I watched her jump this pit for me that I noticed an odd little movement she made with the controller. Whenever attempting a jump, she leaned forward, arms stretched out and entire torso torqued to the right, as if attempting to give Mario that extra oomph in his jump by using her own physicality to push him forward. A moment later I realized I'd been doing it too, without even realizing it. I also know that it was not unique to us, because on several occasions I've seen people who have never played a video game before using their entire body in an attempt to influence the characters leaping on screen. Of course, it's a weird habit that goes away quickly, as you get over the controller's disconnect from reality and learn that your thumbs are the only thing that decides the difference between success and failure.
It's a lesson we all quickly learn. Each successive generation of consoles has taught us to suppress our instincts and to focus entirely on the reality of the game, sitting stock-still while our thumbs frantically scrabble around a piece of plastic to defeat marauding alien invaders, or what have you.
Then NIntendo announced the Wii.
Suddenly everything was backwards. Your first time playing Wii Sports, you must relearn all of the weird habits that you quashed in order to mature as a gamer. You can't just sit there and stare at the screen, you have to get up off the couch and put your body into it. Even if you are able to successfully play tennis from a sitting position, you're missing most of the point of the game. It's as if Nintendo is going back and apologizing for quashing our body's natural inclination to move as we play video games. Some people even managed to injure themselves as they got used to the sensation of full-body gaming again - regrettable, but I think it may also a testament to the primal sort of fun that the Wii can tap into, if the games are designed well enough.
Even the new trend of pack-in bonuses (Wii Sports with the Wii, an extra controller with Wii Play, a MotionPlus with Wii Sports Resort) is not a dramatic new idea. Heck, I remember when we got our NES, it came with two controllers, the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cartridge, and a Zapper gun, and this was not unusual. It was to be expected. Back then, it was assumed that if you were buying a console, then by God they would set you up with everything you needed (including multiplayer!). I miss that.
So for everyone who may complain that Nintendo is abandoning the hardcore crowd of gamers, I might argue that they never were trying to be the "hardcore gamer's console." The track record for Nintendo games and systems has trended towards accessible, approachable, and fundamentally fun
gaming experiences. Maybe that's not everybody's cup of tea, but there's something to be said for trying to keep the simple joy of video games alive.
Of course, I might be wrong. And I'm not trying to antagonize anyone -- just providing food for thought.
If you've been reading, thanks! This is actually my first post, so I hope it didn't break those cardinal rules of not failing/sucking/etc. Let me know what you think in the comments, and thanks again. read