Everything you wanted to know about gaming, and less.

by Jamison DeLorenzo

If you ever want a truly enigmatic experience, at this point you just may need a video game vacation. It does sound quite cliché, but it does a great job at soothing the body, the mind, and the soul. The gaming aspect about such a trip is always interesting (otherwise, why are would you ever plan one?), but the best part is invariably a discussion about the gaming itself. If you have a good group of people who can philosophize about this for several hours, you have yourself a winner.Replaying the week in my head this morning while on the way to work (maybe daydreaming along with cell phones need to be outlawed in cars- can we do that?) forced me to link two concepts that I originally thought were completely unrelated. Think about the success of the current consoles and health of the PC gaming market. Nintendo struck a chord with the Wii that tons of people did not expect, and that is the way in which we interact with video games. No, I am not referring to smashing a controller against a wall when the CPU defeats you.

People like to point to the PC gaming market as the place where all the best cutting edge games go, but is that really true? If you think purely about graphical achievements then you would be right on because looking at the video arms race, even just with a small reference window of this past year, you will see a gigantic leap in video card power… processing power and power consumption (remember, puns are our friends). Perhaps we have gone too far with the 2 PCIe slot graphic cards that you can easily use to bludgeon someone to death. Aside from pure power, the last real innovation the PC gaming market brought to the table was the online RPG.

Consoles have been the stage for the biggest innovations within the last several years in gaming. Look at the success of the EyeToy, Wiimote, DS, and the DDR pad. The world’s most successful games have largely been the result of a combination of any of these innovations, and that is discounting the Guiter Hero guitar (I cannot think of a quick catchy name for it, hence its earlier omission). It is true that there are games that just work on their own steam, such as a blockbuster console release like Halo, but the way I see it the truth of the matter is that gamers are tired of the dual analog and the keyboard/mouse.

If you don’t believe that the interaction is the latest big idea in gaming then you are missing out on some important things. First you should look at the stock price of Nintendo over the last year. If you are one of those ‘numbers are boring’ people or just don’t feel like doing the research then all you need to know is that your investment would have tripled in the past year. This is far more than just Nintendo getting lucky at the race track.

I am in the camp of people that need some graphical innovation, so shiny things do easily distract me. Unfortunately, cost of development is a big barrier for many companies that want to make a lot of successful games. This was easy when the gaming industry was just getting started because all you had was one button, a joystick, and 8-bit graphics. Games like Tetris don’t succeed because of graphics- they succeed because they are easy to understand and play.

So what did Sony and Microsoft miss this time around? Multimedia and online play do have a market, so they have put very good systems together (minus alarming hardware issues). Video game consoles in the home was new to everyone in the 80’s, and when games have one button and a joystick everyone can get in on the action. Bring a controller with 10+ buttons in front of your parents now and many of them will be scared away. Did you really thought DDR and the Wii were successful because the games were good? Seriously?

This has been the argument from the Sony and Microsoft fanbots almost since the consoles were first announced and to an extent it still happens today. Look at the games that were coming out in the 80’s and honestly tell me how games with such a simple notion could ever succeed today. Adventure was a horribly cheesy game, but the technology was so new that people had a unique experience playing it. What is very strange is that the dragons guarding the keys in the game still scare me.

Fast forward to today. Look at the stylus and the DS. After two years of struggling, Nintendo has finally found the games that sell the system. What, did you think Nintendogs sold because it was a deep and interesting game? Part of the reason for the game’s success is because of the previous success of Tamagotchi, but it is also one of the first video game translations of it. DDR is a sweeping success because everyone understands dancing to music. Girls will generally run away screaming from complicated controllers (almost as though you are trying to solicit a date), but throw down a pad where you can dance to modern music and they’ll have fun all day long. Put a guitar in the hands of people who are not used to it and they will be entertained for hours on end. Put a light gun in someone’s hand and they will be happy to shoot at anything that pops onto the screen. Put a magic wand in front of someone and they will do whatever they can (including embedding it in the TV, but that isn’t recommended).

The next time you catch yourself defending your PC for gaming because your graphics are always better or your keyboard and mouse will never be beaten you need to ask yourself when you became a dinosaur. Gaming innovation is now in the hands of new controllers, and any developer that does not seriously take this into consideration is going to endanger themselves with possible extinction.