My favorite Wii story


The Wii retains its aura of hipness, even eight months after the launch. Perhaps this is in part because the consoles themselves are still hard to find, but I suspect this continuing enthusiasm speaks beyond scarcity to address a whole host of compelling stories we’re longing to tell ourselves about high technology.  Some see in the Wii the redemption of videogaming from couch-potatoism.  Some see the invigoration of a industry in a creative slump.  Some see the quicksilver of cool.  Some see profit, some see fun.  Some see a fad.

My own favorite story to tell about the Wii is the way it’s going to make possible an entirely new category of popular interactive art.  I think that in the Wii a remarkable opportunity to broaden the reach of experimental interactivity has been almost literally dropped into our palms.  Its celebrated controller is a brilliantly hybridized design that combines familiar and unfamiliar in a way which disrupts conventional expectations and creates a void into which the general public now expects experimentation to make consistent appearance. Not an insignificant achievement.

Nintendo is also teaching millions of people to judge interactivity qualitatively in ways they may not have considered before. It’s a short step for a Wii user to go from honing their gestures in WiiSports to thinking of themselves as a performer in a more explicitly artistic context.  It’s all about the how—and what the controller does so beautifully is to decouple the how from hardcore training, which is what interactive “entertainment” feels like to many people.  How no longer has to be only about adopting the hypertensive posture of the gamer in constant pursuit of decreased response time.  How just got bigger.

Looking at the current crop of Wii titles, however, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the new How was an odd mix of play-acting, general goofiness and mostly failed attempts to one-up the hardcore.  I enjoy many of these titles myself, but a quick search on the net reveals something of the real promise of this technology put to work in experiments which are not running on the Wii console, but through various hacks and workarounds that open its motion-sensitive capabilities to musicians, DJs, VJs, artists and others.  (In fact, an entire sub-genre of online video has cropped up consisting of Wiimote-wielding geeks demonstrating their prowess in front of monitors glowing with a fresh hack—a sub-genre to which I was gratified to make my own contribution last week.)

I think it would be unfortunate if development inspired by the Wii continued to grow solely along these bifurcated paths.  Most of the artists experimenting with the Wiimote are making tools for themselves or for other artists; many of the game developers are stumbling over each other trying to appeal to markets they haven’t historically been interested in.  This leaves room for the contributions of those who see in the Wii something they’ve been waiting on for a long time, perhaps without even knowing it. Maybe their way, like the Wiimote itself, will be a hybrid combination of familiar and unfamiliar, old and new, common and uncommon.

I can’t wait to find out.


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