Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Immaturity and the Wii

by Daniel Bullard-Bates

The Wii has started an interesting phenomenon: while almost singlehandedly turning video games into a more widely-accepted form of entertainment, it has simultaneously lowered the bar for video game narrative and maturity. The most successful games on the Wii are those with little to no character development, narrative thread or control complexity. There are piles of mini-game collections, cutesy children’s games, and sports titles that sell extraordinarily well to the casual gaming crowd. Hardcore gamers, however, feel left for dead. One of the major complaints voiced by hardcore gamers is that so few games for the Wii are rated M (for mature).

A few developers have listened: No More Heroes, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, Madworld and House of the Dead: Overkill have all attempted to win over the hardcore Wii audience. From the sales numbers on these and other M-rated games on the Wii, however, it seems that Mature-rated content is not in high demand on the most family-friendly console on the market. So if hardcore gamers keep demanding these more mature game experiences, why aren’t they selling?

While I can’t address why others aren’t buying these games, it’s easy for me to explain my own reservations. I, too, crave more mature games on the Wii, but I haven’t bought any of the games listed above. Before I’m blamed for keeping the Wii bereft of mature titles, allow me to explain why Mature-rated titles are often just as immature as their E (for everyone) compatriots.

Sure, MadWorld and House of the Dead: Overkill are not games for children. They are brutal, bloody, and filled with explicit language, but they don’t look like games for adults either. While there may, in theory, be some commentary about society’s fascination with violence present in these games, this does not counteract the problem that they are still games built entirely out of that same savagery. What plot is present is undecipherable amongst the missing limbs, splatter effects and profanity. In fact, the games bear passing similarity to mini-game collections: players shake their remotes to rip off heads instead of chopping trees, and aim carefully at an enemy’s groin instead of at a pretty pink balloon.

Maturity in games goes far beyond simply making the content unacceptable for children. Games like BioShock, Half-Life 2 and Fallout 3 resonate with mature gamers because they have more than brutality and gore on display. There are social themes, philosophies, and profound ideas present. There is choice and consequence. To make a truly mature game on the Wii means more than adding buckets of gore and a few hundred f-words, though that will earn it an M rating. It means adding depth. It means adding thought.


  1. Well said. It seems most of the games on the Wii are shallow. What hardcore gamers are pining for on the Wii are games they can sink their teeth into, that they can talk about and get excited about. It seems like No More Heroes is the one that has gotten closest to that so far.

  2. Word, I agree with how juvenile some of the M rated games are to play. Maybe there's just going to be a growing difference between the target audiences on each console?

  3. I am picking up what you are putting down, but looking back at Nintendo’s history haven’t they always been more on the warm and fuzzy side of gaming? This seems like a consistent move for Nintendo. I think it is worthy of criticism but I don’t feel like it is anything out of the ordinary.

  4. Nintendo itself puts out sort of a mixed-bag of first-party games, in terms of maturity. Most of them are aimed at kids (Mario, Pikmin, Donkey Kong), some are sort of teen-to-adult oriented (Zelda) and others are more mature, though not unacceptable for children (Metroid).

    But every previous Nintendo console has had third-party games with much more mature story lines and content, without devolving into nonsensical bloodfests. Take the last generation, the Gamecube: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Beyond Good and Evil, while both of them were T-rated, presented mature experiences. Eternal Darkness was a personal favorite, and definitely a deep and interesting M-rated game. And let's not forget what was probably the most popular M-rated game of the previous generation: Resident Evil 4, which started out on the Gamecube.

  5. I think the trouble we are getting into with a great number of these specialized controllers is the difficulty outside developers will face when trying to produce cross-platform games. No one disputes that the motion sensitive controller is an impressive feature, but it also forces developers to either build a game around it or hammer in compatibility in games that aren’t made for just Nintendo. The result, as you point out, is less developers taking an interest in the system as a whole and also a bunch of crappy tac-on mini games.

  6. True. On top of that, the graphics capabilities of the Wii are nowhere close to those of the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3, so there's really no possibility of releasing the same game on all three major platforms. That being said, with the Wii being far and away the most popular of the three, you'd expect to see more serious support for the system.

  7. Nintendo has done a fine job of promoting its products. By underselling its competitors and offering a radical new feature I am sure they hoped to carve out an unchallengeable consumer base. Not a bad strategy from a business prospective, but without a higher quality of game I am certain you will begin to see the popularity of the Wii decline. Nintendo should have used its windfall profits to purchase some popular developers, but they’ve been slow to act. If they don’t get it together soon I imagine many of the new gamers who were introduced to the medium with the arrival of the Wii will move on to greener pastures, I.E. the X-box and perhaps even the sclerotic Play Station (Sony, if you are reading this it’s time to lower your prices)

  8. From the looks of it, the new Wii version of Silent Hill looks to be mature in the proper sense, as well...Very excited about it.

  9. Certainly the Wii is lacking something, but I would say that maturity is not it. While it may be revolutionizing the gaming market, I would say that the greatest weakness of the Wii is the simple fact that, while it is surrounded by hype and self-administered pats on the back, the Wii is little more than an abortive tech demo. It is a space for possibility which has gone almost wholly unutilized and unexplored.

    While I will not deny that there were some early explorations made, I have to state it simply: the Wii is a failure. It is a cash cow, it has had a transformative effect on the gaming community, but, in its original plan to change the way games are played, it has not only missed the mark, but it has given up.

    It does not take much explanation at this point, but the lack of true use of the actual innovations the Wii contains is deeply disappointing. I still desire for Nintendo or some creative 3rd party to demonstrate the higher possibilities for the Wii outside of casual gaming, but hope is something for the Wii which I have long since lost. It is almost depressing to think about.

  10. One of the major problems with the Wii to this point has been the funtionality of the motion controls. Because the Wii remote only recognizes general motions and pointing, the motion controls on the Wii have been mostly used as an extra button on the controller. Instead of pushing B, a game would tell you to waggle the Wii remote. With WiiMotionPlus coming out soon, Nintendo is promising that their technology will now do what it was supposed to do all along: offer real one-to-one fidelity with actual motions.

    So will this open up the field to actually awesome experiences? We'll see. I'm not holding my breath.

  11. I wonder whether the choice to use "shake violently" to replace various buttons is not some attempt at a nod to "serious" gamers. I feel like the assumption is that serious gamers want a game with a more traditional control scheme so all we get is the cheap button replacement.

  12. Tell the truth, and maybe I'm alone here but I doubt it, for me, it's a practical combination of several of the comments here --

    Simply put, if I want a more 'mature' game, I buy it for the 360 or PS3 -- not because of the availability of the game, but because the Wii version is generally lousiest. Wii lacks the graphics, the expandability, the control that I want when I'm playing something story-rich. This may be about perception, but I really think it's about control and story.

    That said, are we going to make the claim that if it doesn't have story, it lacks seriousness or maturity? I mean, there's something basic and serious about competition, and there, the Wii scores pretty well. There are lots of ways to be serious about playing games, and some of them don't involve narrative. I mean, where's the narrative in a game of golf? But are you going to be the one to tell Tiger Woods that he's not doing something serious? Are we sure that watching Aerith die is more grown-up than competing (even at something stupid) with other people just becaue there's no narrative? Doesn't that indict all of, you know, sports?

    Me, I'm not there.

  13. I certainly wouldn't make the claim that something that lacks story isn't serious or mature. I'd also argue that there's a narrative in most games of golf, at least to those who are enthralled by the intricacies of the game.

    I personally find wrestling with emotions and contemplating a story more worthwhile than competing in an organized sport, but by no means does that indict sports. I don't think the point of sports is to present a deep, emotionally enriching experience, though some people certainly get that out of the world of sports. Ultimately, sports are mostly just about competition, skill and fun. Some non-sports video games are mostly about that, too: the way most people play games like Starcraft and Halo are much more about the group competitive aspect than personal meaning, emotion, and complexity.

    That doesn't devalue sports or those games; they just have different goals and audiences. The lack of maturity in the games I mentioned doesn't mean that those are bad games. They're just one style of game that doesn't give as deep and mature an experience as I would like to see, and I don't think they're what the hardcore crowd is looking for when they ask for mature games.


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