Jesse Jarnow

in the wii small hours…

I spent part of my Saturday afternoon reading on my couch and part of my Saturday afternoon playing video games with the neighbors. The latter felt healthier. Part of this had to do with the fact that they just acquired a Nintendo Wii. We strapped on the little controller boxes and played. It was social and, if not exactly exercise, then not exactly anything else, either. And I certainly wasn’t alone in my own head anymore.

The baseball game was primitive. There is only batting and pitching. No fielding, no baserunning. In the bottom of the third, the last inning in this stripped-down rendition of the rules, with the score tied at zero, my friend hit a long fly out to left field with a man on third and one out. There was no option to tag, so no run scored. The game stayed tied, and there were no extra innings.

But the experience was pretty remarkable, especially bowling — which, when done in a group of four, strangely mimicked the group act of actually bowling. Even the gestures, mostly involving lining up shots and putting spin on the ball, felt real. I thought often of my college bowling coach.

Naturally, when playing these games, we all assumed the natural postures of what we would do when playing meatspace sports. In baseball, we held the controller like a bat. In golf, like a club. But we don’t have to. One can trick the game into thinking he’s made a full swing with just the slightest twitch of the wrist. But it is a precise twitch, subtler than the intricate hand-eye coordination required for traditional video games.

Until Nintendo releases boxes that attach to the ankle, to mimic the motion of running (or Dance Dance Revolution), the Wii probably won’t slim down the post-cherubic youth of America. But it could do something else. The first generation of home video games refined the use of the thumb: those of the rotary era still dial phones with the pointer fingers while members of the Nintendo generation are more likely to use their thumbs. Who knows what the Wii will really do?

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