The Social Wii

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

So a friend wants to organize a Wii Bowling league.

Wait. Let me pull back for a second, first, and get something off of my chest. Wii. The Nintendo Wii. I defended the name of this thing from the start, appreciating the departure from the aggro face-blast names that these sorts of devices usually pick up (ie, “XBOX,” “Playstation,” “Revolution”). Wii! Cute. Lightweight. Fine. What’s not fine? But the Wii=wee-wee joke has got to end. “Awesome! I’ve got, like, four girls playing with my Wii!” That was funny about twice. I’m the sort of person who makes the same silly jokes over and over until people want to gag me — and it’s bothering me. What’s wrong with you people? (Thanks for letting me get that off of my chest. Feels good.)

Wii Sports comic by Benjamin RiversOkay. So a friends wants to organize a Wii Bowling league. I think it’s a great idea. I am hooked on Wii Bowling (personal best: 190) even though I’ve only been seriously playing for a week or so. We live in New York, so this would not be without precedent. I missed it, but the first Wiimbledon event took place a few weeks ago (Gothamist, Deadspin). And Wii parties have become de rigeur. Even at normal apartment parties people will ask to play with my Wii (groups of girls, even — giggle — ahem). And it works. I mean, it’s fun. And not absorbingly, anti-socially fun like when you hunker over your Playstation for a lengthy session of Grand Theft Auto or whatever. Four or five people — boys and girls — will sit in front of the screen and talk and laugh and make noise as someone makes their first Mii and plays a few games. Especially the games that involve swinging about the Wiimote.

There are, of course, many reasons for this: The games slant towards the quicker, more physical party game genre — and Wii Sports (which comes with it) is brilliant and taps into enough latent cultural knowledge (such as how to bowl) that pulling it out at a party pretty much guarantees that everyone will have a meaningful experience, even if it’s just to say later that they saw people playing tennis with a Wii. They’ll understand. Which I actually think the Wiimotes in general do, as well: Button combos are weird and arcane and watching someone mash buttons, boring. But with the Wii, the player is on stage, acting out, performing — and the effect in a group is not unlike that of charades. Makes for great photographs. And it’s really fun. In a group.

Social fun. This is what Nintendo has knowingly tapped into. Social hardware. But what’s novel is that nearly everyone else exploring that field has gone in the direction of allowing users to fill in little bits of information about themselves (manually or automatically) and then allowing them to browse back through their social network’s info in some filtered way. There are huge variations here, but that’s basically what’s going on. Even with lo-fi stabs at telepresence such as Twitter. But it all comes down to filling out forms and actually acting in quite anti-social ways. I’m not arguing that it’s bad, of course — I’m really into Facebook — but I would never crack open my Facebook profile at a party and expect to do anything other than drive people away.

But Nintendo, with a game console which doesn’t really have any of the classic social software tools (such as finding friends online or making new ones), has made something very similar. But very different. One reason I’m really into the Wii Bowling concept isn’t the Wii Bowling — that’s kind of an arbitrary game (fun, though). What I’m into is the social networking. With this device, I have a social entry-point with new people which can mix with a comfortable drinking-and-talking atmosphere. Watching someone make a Mii is watching someone in a rather personal expressive act — they’re defining how they think they look in the world — and I think it opens people up. Unlike Facebook or Twitter or Flickr or Whatevr the Wii sets up a social experience in which you actually form bonds rather than just express them (and don’t get me going about your relationship with “friends” you only know because you subscribe to their Twitter feed). “These are games intended for social groups of everyday people enticed by the experience, not for a rabid base of online strangers who just want to gank each other.” (- Angry Gamer)

It’s good. And interesting. And other stuff.

To wrap, some game recommendations.

Great party games:

Wii Sports. Almost goes without saying. Fortunately it’s bundled. Favorites? Bowling and baseball. Tennis is okay.

Wario Ware: Smooth Moves. Party crack. Very fast (<5 second games, all in row), very goofy. Makes great use of the Wiimote.

Rayman’s Raving Rabbids. A bit less immediately accessible than the two above, but the games are good and the atmosphere is satisfyingly dark. And most of the games involve you doing something cruel to a bunch of dumb, big-headed “rabbids.” Which is great if you’re into torturing little furry things. (And who isn’t?)


Elebits. Konami wanted their own Katamari Damacy-style game. And they kind of got it. You roam around your house (and later town) with a Ghostbusters-like proton pack zapping little electron-rich Elebit critters that help you power increasingly more energy-consumptive devices. The multiplayer mode is a bit of a pain, though.


Mario Party 8. Guh. It’s a damned board game. More like “bored game.” Heh. No, seriously. You roll dice and wander a board looking for coins. It’s horrible. About every five minutes or so you’ll get a quick game that’s fun, but not too fun. This game is designed for parents who hate their children.



Posted Mon, February 11, 2008, 6:29pm EST by Anonymous

Game devices are Social Hardware, a term that needs recognition

Posted Tue, March 17, 2009, 1:20pm EST by Douglas Pardoe Wilson

The term Social Hardware is not new to me, and it is quite visible on the web, via Google, but my attempt to put up a Social Hardware page on the Wikipedia is likely to fail because they consider it a neologism. It would help if someone could either provide references or argure for it on the Wikipedia talk page.
Please help!