Putting the game back in video game  FEB 13 2007

Steven Johnson has written up some thoughts on the Nintendo Wii. His fifth point is especially interesting and I can't help quoting almost the entire thing:

Wii Sports trades the onscreen complexity of goals and objectives and puzzles for the physical, haptic complexity of bodily movement. Since the days of Pong, games have been simplifying the intricacies of movement into unified codes of button pressing and joystick manipulation. What strikes you immediately playing Wii Sports -- and particularly Tennis -- is this feeling of fluidity, the feeling that subtle, organic shifts in your body's motion will lead to different results onscreen. My wife has a crosscourt slam she hits at the net that for the life of me I haven't been able to figure out; I have a topspin return of soft serves that I've half-perfected that's unhittable. We both got to those techniques through our own athletic experimentation with various gestures, and I'm not sure I could even fully explain what I'm doing with my killer topspin shot. In a traditional game, I'd know exactly what I was doing: hitting the B button, say, while holding down the right trigger. Instead, my expertise with the shot has evolved through the physical trial-and-error of swinging the controller, experimenting with different gestures and timings. And that's ultimately what's so amazing about the device. Games for years have borrowed the structures and rules -- as well as the imagery -- of athletic competition, but the Wii adds something genuinely new to the mix, something we'd ignored so long we stopped noticing that it was missing: athleticism itself.

He's not exactly right -- for example, drifting in Mario Kart is difficult to do until you develop a "touch" for it and is not easy to explain to others -- but the Wii does take it to a new level.

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