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Wii Play: Motion

(Nintendo; US: 13 Jun 2011)

Much like Wii Play: Sports, Wii Play: Motion feels like a tech demo.  However, that Wii Play at least felt like a pitch intended to provoke some desire to actually buy the experience being sold.  The sort of “Oh, wow” feeling that it produced by allowing you a range of motion that felt somewhat authentic in playing tennis or throwing a bowling ball could induce a purchase of a Wii system (it did at my house).  Because experiencing the sorts of things that a Wiimote seemed able to do suggested that the system might offer some complete games built around this technology.


Wii Play: Motion comes at a time when all of the big hardware publishers are all looking at integrating more motion technologies into controllers than ever before, and I have to say it: I still don’t get it.  And especially because Wii Play: Motion often just feels like a proof of concept more than anything that you could build a whole game around or anything that I might want to play multiple times.


The new controller and its implementation offers additional and more precise movements than the original Wiimote, things like being able to twist the Wii in order to enact “reeling” motions in-game or to perform balancing actions with the Wiimote pointed straight up.  The games that “prove” this concept, though, much like the original Wii Play, seem to lack any real substantive gaming pleasure. 


Reeling a diver up and down into the ocean to collect gems and treasure chests is more annoying and taxing on the wrists than fun and balancing an enormous ice cream cone for an extended period of time looks rather cute but isn’t much of a really engaging activity. And don’t get me started on the game in which you “fan” a bubble upwards through a maze of rings—repetitive motion that is just exhausting to the arm (even for someone like myself who is fit – I can’t imagine how trying this would be for someone that is more sedentary than I am).


Mostly, though, the collection suffers from the fact that most of these mini-games don’t feel much like games.  I’ve had trouble understanding the idea that motion control is what gaming needs at all for some time now, and Wii Play: Motion just seems like an argument in my favor.


I just can’t quite understand why I want to replicate complex physical actions as a gamer.  Physical activity is a different kind of fun than a game.  It is why I run, why I bike.  I go outside to play; I stay inside to game.  Gaming is more often about simplifying processes in order to generate an easier means of simulating a process, not mirroring its details exactly.  When I play a board game like Puerto Rico, I do so with no desire to actually run the economy of a small island in the most exacting of ways.  I don’t really want to worry about making sure I have a large enough supply of laborers and negotiating with them to keep a factory running, nor do I want to wait for crops to grow to build up an economy.  What I want to do is simulate these actions with counters and little wooden blocks that allow me to strategize about economy without having to worry about the tedious minutiae of actual economic conditions or real consequences.  It’s a game about economy.  I don’t really want the responsibility of running one.


In that sense, I don’t come to a console game with much desire to physically enact dance or sports or shooting with my whole body.  If I wanted to play tennis, I would go play tennis.  I play games because they tell me stories, because they allow me to strategize and analyze and solve problems, because they aren’t exactly reality.  I want to play a game.


Wii Play: Motion succeeds more when the activities that it asks you to do are more like a game with clear goals that go beyond mimicking a weird physical action.  There is a shooting game that allows you to fend off UFOs, ninjas, and dinosaurs that is pretty fun, largely because there are goals like attempting to survive or to save the other Miis saved on your console, and you have to think about how to do so.  In fact, personalizing your Wii, as my daughters have done, really adds to the experience of this game.  Because my kids have recreated nearly every member of my wife and I’s families (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.), when the UFOs come for my Miis, I have to save people that I feel like I know, adding an emotive and narrative weight to an experience that otherwise might lack it and would instead devolve into me aiming a plastic “gun” at my television awkwardly. 


Indeed, the bizarre motion required to “turn to the side” in this game, which involves me turning my torso as if I was turning that direction but still keeping my eyes on the screen because the television can’t pivot with me is as strange as it is probably sounding as I attempt to describe it.  In essence, the game is trying to simulate me being able to turn to shoot things that are “beside me” in the room, but since my television is still in front of me, it becomes this weird and awkward twisting motion that is nothing like the act of turning naturally.


Additionally, there is also a pretty good game that involves capturing ghosts that “escape your TV screen” and fly around the room that involves pointing the Wiimote behind you, above you, and to the right and left of you in order to locate and drag them into a “ghost trap”, again, though, this is helped by more game-like goals, like defending your Miis from the ghosts, following their verbal and physical cues to aid in locating the ghosts, and trapping varied kinds of ghosts that require different tactics to successfully capture. 


In essence, this collection is not for me (or people like me).  Build me a game that is interesting that requires me to perform these weird actions, and I might play it.  Though, frankly I don’t want to contort my wrists in weird and unnatural ways for any length of time.  No game may be worth that.  I recently gave up playing The Witcher 2 until I could pick up a wireless adapter for my PC to play it with a gamepad rather than a mouse and keyboard.  I found that trying to play with a keyboard as an input was just too physically difficult given the design of the game (which is obviously oriented towards effectively using the camera and interacting with objects with two analog sticks, rather than a mouse).  I want a simpler way to physically interact with The Witcher 2, so that I can think about the game, rather about the location in space of my fingers and wrists.  That isn’t gaming. 


I want to play a game, not perform activities.  In some sense, it feels like the games industry wants to build some sort of “activity machines” instead of game machines.  Maybe that works for some people, but I just want to game.

Rating:

G. Christopher Williams is a Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He posts his weekly contribution to the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters every Wednesday. Besides also serving as Multimedia Editor at PopMatters and writing at his own blog, 8-bit confessional, he has also published essays in journals like Film Criticism, PostScript, and the Popular Culture Review. You won't find him on Twitter, but you can drop him a line with that old fashioned thing called e-mail at williams@popmatters.com.


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