When I was young, my family owned a Nintendo Entertainment System. Well, technically we owned two. See, there were four kids, and there was a significant but probably expected amount of arguing over who got to play what, even with the comparably healthy relationships we all had. So the parents, in their infinite wisdom, decided that a second console was an easier solution than constantly mediating. I can't say I disagree with their logic. So I gorged myself on Mario and Zelda and Final Fantasy until I literally burned out my console. No, the parents would not buy a third one.
Later, I had an SNES. It wasn't bought on release night, but it was still early days. With all the other kids in the neighborhood still playing their previous generation Nintendo, I was a local celebrity. My trusty Multitap helped keep my kitchen free of snacks and the other parents in the neighborhood free of frustration, at least until one of the other kids got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. I still devoured Mario and Zelda and Final Fantasy, and considered it the gravest of sins when Square abandoned Nintendo for the Playstation.
So yes, I have a little bit of a bias when it comes to the console wars. Yes, I've been a big fan of Nintendo for a long time. So you might be a bit doubting or incredulous when I describe how the Wii is hands-down the best console design available. It's ok, I'm used to the scoffs and chuckles and disagreement. It's an argument I have often, with people who work in the gaming industry and who are sure that they know best. I'm used to hearing about how Nintendo doesn't understand things like chip speed or framerates or polygon counts. Which is fine, I reply; Nintendo understands gaming.
It's not that I don't have experience from the other side of the argument. I owned Playstations up to the third generation, and still have one wired up next to the Atari 2600. I hit level 60 in WoW back when level 60 actually meant something. And I understand gaming of a non-digital kind as well, traveling literally around the world to play and run events for tabletop card games, board games, and role-playing games. My hobbies and my work are gaming. I live, eat, and breathe it. And while I appreciate the appeal of a gorgeous game in breathtaking 3D, I don't always appreciate the efforts I have to go through to enjoy it.
If art is anything designed to provoke an emotion, than video games are absolutely art. And recently, games and studios have stepped up and embraced this. Big name titles deal with topics dripping with emotion and meaning, and they do it in a spread of ways. Grand Theft Auto can be campy and over the top, but the newest incarnation makes you choose in quests which loved one one you let die. And if you're looking for a more serious interpretation of rape than "Sleep with hooker and then get my money back," the upcoming MGS title snagged an M rating for an audio track of what is unquestionably a rape scene. When players need a trigger warning because games feel that real, that immersive, then designers and studios are doing something right.
But what if the emotion I want to experience isn't fear or horror or sorrow? What if I just want to get a shot in the arm of pure fell-good adrenalin? Nintendo doesn't handle the adult topics the way other console and titles do, but why should it? If there's room for comedies and dramas both in the movies, on television, in novels, and so on, why don't we accept the same being true for video games?
And then there's the thing that Nintendo did so, so right with the Wii; the interface. Yes, the Wiimote was a humorous thing when it first came out. Sure, it lacked the gravitas that oversized dual-stick controllers maintained. And gamers everywhere laughed at it and wrote it off. But the Wiimote wasn't made for gamers, it was made for everyone. Science fiction authors make a habit of trying to predict the future. The good ones stumble onto some version of the truth, but it's always overshadowed by outlandish ridiculous claims of technology intruding into our lives. This is because science fiction writers are good at telling a story, but not always good at designing an efficient and natural user interface. "Her" came out last year, a science fiction movie about a writer falling in love with an AI, and unlike most science fiction, it finally realizes something about technology from the future; it doesn't look like technology. There are no complicated control panels for lights or heat, just a computer that keeps track of where folks are and turns things on and off. There are no future generation keyboards or mice, just someone talking to his computer. Laugh at Wii bowling all you want, but I have never seen someone ask what buttons do what the first time they play that game.
The newest generation of consoles let you talk to them. There's even a clip floating around YouTube of people trolling by changing their gamer tag to "XBox sign out." And the PS Vita does what the WiiU tablet does, letting you play games in your hands, rather than limiting you to one specific interface. Which is great, really. But this isn't the XBox or the Playstation developing an interface, it's just reacting to things already designed. Nintendo doesn't expect you to have long in-depth conversations with your console, because your console honestly can't understand long in-depth conversations yet. It doesn't feel natural, and it pulls you out of this immersive state and back into the real world. Microsoft or Sony are great for when you want to play a game. But I'll pull up my Wii for when I actually want to save a princess, slay a dragon, or hell, even go bowling.