The Epistemological Consequences of Motion Control in Wii Gaming

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September 20, 2012 by sczaja200

Stephen Czaja

Article Report

The Nintendo Wii is a console that has had its’ ups and downs over the past six years. While it will soon be replaced by the upcoming Wii U, it has still had a remarkable impact upon the world of video gaming. The Wii is the first console to implement motion control successfully. Success here meaning the feature actually increased sales of the console because of its positive additions to gameplay experiences. The article I found in Loading… by Bart Simon, titled “Wii are out of Control: Bodies, Game Screens and the Production of Gestural Excess” (http://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/view/65/59), discusses the Wii’s motion control feature in-depth.

Simon says his article has three different trajectories related to the bodily movements required in many Wii games. The first is to see how the marketing of the Wii and its public perception as an action-oriented console usher in a new era of family gaming and “a virtual reality we never quite had” (3). The second is to see how the nature of the Wii remote shifts attention from solely the screen to the relationship between the actions of the user and the screen. The third is to examine the tension between minimal gestures and excessive gestures that some games create.

To contextualize these three sections, the article begins with a comparison of Wii television advertisements to other consoles. Simon points out that while most advertisements for games are focused on events on the screen, Wii advertisements focus on the player interacting with the game. This, he says, is a new type of purchasing decision for consumers: before, one merely decided between different fantasy immersions, but now the consumer is buying physical experiences. These physical experiences, he says, appeal to a fascination we have with seeing what our bodies can do in front of the screen. Thus, what is interesting here is that a person enjoying a Wii game is perhaps not so much enjoying the game itself, but the way they can play it. The author calls this an “unanticipated epistemological consequence of market differentiation” (3), because the way we know and study games now includes the way physical action is used by players to interact with games on the screen.

Relating this to our class, I think this represents an interesting expansion of the magic circle. Instead of the circle merely containing the rules of the game inside the television, the circle is now widened to encompass the physical space surrounding the player. Maybe this disrupts the circle in a way. For the magic circle is thought of as a sanctified place where an alternative (and often inefficient) reality of rules is represented. Places like a football field, the television screen, or lines drawn in the dirt are perimeters in which games are played. A Wii game, however, can be played anywhere, as long as the player can see the screen and the remote is within sensing range of the console. Potentially, a living room can be the football field or a bedroom the bowling alley. Does the magic circle metaphor hold up if the circle can be expanded and shaped in such an indefinite manner?

As Simon begins to hone in on his first trajectory, he discusses how the family-centered marketing of the Wii represents a focus of the console being social gaming, and is reminiscent of old television advertisements that focused on family togetherness. The Wii accomplishes this focus by allowing its players to enjoy the aforementioned physical interactions with games. These interactions are seen by friends or family members, and thus turns the locus of attention from the screen to the player. What is then implied by the article is that a connectedness with the people around the player occurs as a result of this new attention. It is interesting to compare this focus of marketing to the television ad for the Atari 2600 we watched in class. In the commercial, a family is playing the Atari, but not together. Instead, the camera cuts to shots of different family members playing the console alone. This certainly did not help sell 2600’s, but perhaps it was a more honest depiction of video gaming in general.

Next the article differentiates between virtual reality gaming, where a player is not tied to their relation with the screen, and gaming with the Wii remote, which still requires players to acknowledge this connection. While in the virtual reality games that were advertised in the 80’s a player could move his or head to the side and still be immersed in the game, Wii games make the player focus on the world represented by the screen. Yet, Simon contends, this is not a “purely screen-based spectacle either” (7), because of the user’s gestural input.

Last to be discussed is the author’s interpretation of a phenomenon he calls “gestural excess”. When playing a Wii game, players often use more exaggerated gestures than is necessary for input to be accurately understood by the software. While playing Wii Tennis, for instance, a mere flick of the wrist is needed for the game to register a racquet swing. Players instead typically try to emulate the full swing of a real racquet necessary to hit a real tennis ball while playing, however. Two reasons for this, Simon suggests, is that (1) using these exaggerated motions can be like putting on a performance for others and (2) that it is natural to emulate the movements of the characters or events on screen. Indeed, I noticed while playing the Atari 2600 and NES we would sometimes squirm around in our seats or move our bodies in the direction we want the character to go in moments of immersion in the game. The connection with the Wii is obviously more intimate though, because your bodily movements actually have an effect on gameplay. This is the point Simon is focused on throughout the article and is explained more now by this report: motion control is a feature that adds a new dimension to video games, which subsequently changes the way we understand this type of media.

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One thought on “The Epistemological Consequences of Motion Control in Wii Gaming

  1. ald7th says:

    Reading your sentence early in the essay, “Does the magic circle metaphor hold up if the circle can be expanded and shaped in such an indefinite manner?” I think yes, absolutely. I don’t think that the circle needs to be defined by anyone other than the player. And by playing the game, in the moment, the circle is defined. It’s relative, just like everything else.

    In your final paragraph, you mention the movements of people while playing the Atari 2600 and NES. I think there was the most movement last night while playing BioShock. Not only was the player moving around, but the visceral reactions from the audience was the most amusing. BioShock is definitely the most immersing game we’ve played thus far, but eventually, a full-immersion video game would completely change the genre. The Wii has changed the genre, but not enough to revolutionize video games.

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