Friday, April 30, 2010

The Wii

Ryan Sammartino
Kapil Mishra
Conor Biller

In her article “Reload: Liveness, Mobility, and the Web,” Tara McPherson discusses the unique experiences of the Internet, many of which apply directly to the Wii and suggest parallel experiences between them. McPherson claims that the Web’s cursor is “a tangible sign of presence implying movement” (McPherson, 201). The slightest move of one’s hand can move him limitless distances through cyberspace. The Wii’s remote mimics this dynamic, but also expands on it: Wii users literally point to where they want to go, using the motion sensing technology of the game to wirelessly control their movement through it. With the stroke of the remote, one’s location changes in the Wii world, giving the remote the power of “liveness” shared by the Internet (McPherson, 201). As McPherson says, the Web’s liveness “foregrounds volition and mobility, creating a liveness of demand...a sense of causality” (McPherson, 202). Flicking the Wii or clicking its buttons can take the user to an endless variety of worlds, immediately and at the user’s whim. Like with the Internet and mouse, the user has complete control because of the remote: control of where they go or what they experience, a control which McPherson terms “volitional mobility” (McPherson, 202).
The user’s choice to navigate the screen occurs through an immediate process. The motion of the remote control instantaneously affects the motion of the cursor, causing rapid gratification during game play. Jenkins, in “Games, the New Lively Art,” remarks that when observing the immediacy of game play, one should look “not in terms of how convincing the representation of the character and the fictional world is but rather in terms of the character’s ‘capacity’ to respond to our impulses and desires.” The Wii characters are essentially replicating the user’s movements, as a swinging of the arm translates to the swinging of a racquet. In addition to this visual gratification, the controller vibrates at appropriate times (i.e. ball hits the racquet) to create an accompanying physical gratification. The game console, however, strips away the aesthetics and sharpness of the fictional world to compensate for its attention to interaction. The remote control functions as an extension of the arm, serving as the vital connection to the character and game play. One might wonder if it’s worth taking away the visual appeal, but Jenkins points out that it is the “expansion of the player’s capacity which accounts for the emotional intensity of most games.” While a conventional game controller typically measures a character’s strength by how frequently the user pushes button X, Wii’s innovative design requires a faster motion by the user’s arm. The user’s freedom to move his arm in any direction leads to the same freedoms and movements for the character.
However, within the confines of the Wii, the user’s control by arm movement is just that—control by arm movement. The Wii remote’s interactivity does not extend any further. Whereas Jenkins focuses on a character’s ability to respond to the user’s full range of desires and commands, the Wii limits the characters primarily to the user’s ability to gesture. What cannot be gestured cannot be accomplished. For example, in Wii Tennis, the system’s popular tennis “simulation,” the player has full control of the strokes of his racquet. He can slice, he can use topspin, he can pull the ball wide or he can drive it straight. And while the versatility of the racquet via the Wii remote offers the illusion of actual tennis, character limitations keep that illusion grounded. Because of the nature of the Wii remote, the player is entirely stripped of his freedom of movement. So while the “emotional intensity” Jenkins discusses is certainly present in the often hyper-competitive Wii Tennis, the Wii’s programming directs character movement and therefore restricts a significant portion of user control. The overlying idea is that the user overlooks this limitation because of the specific and powerful control he possesses over the racquet.
The structure and form of the Wii intervenes in the user’s otherwise-complete control over their player in the game, but it also intervenes in the broader narrative of their gaming experience, hindering their volitional mobility in subtle but not invisible ways. The Wii’s design and form prevents the user from having complete bodily control over the remote, and it also prevents them from having complete control over the path and progression of their use of the Wii. This problematizes the parallels between the Wii and Tara McPherson’s reading of the Internet as a realm of user freedom and choice.
McPherson claims the Web “can be multidirectional and also simultaneous, both forward and backward at once” (McPherson, 203). In other words, there is no true limit or necessary direction to the path an Internet user must take while experiencing the Web. Once the Internet user enters an address, he or she can enter another with the same ease: the user can go forward endlessly via the address bar, mobile in any direction desired. The Wii, however, is neither simultaneous nor dimensional. Even though both the Web and Wii offer a myriad of experiences, they do not overlap within the Wii, and cannot be accessed from one to the other. For example, suppose a Wii user wishes to leave Wii Sports and experience the Wii Shop Channel. He must first return to the homescreen, then find and select the Wii Shop Channel. On the other hand, Web users need only type a new web address to mobilize themselves in the exact direction they have chosen. The Wii’s interface and design impede the user’s volitional mobility by tethering users to the homescreen.

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