seventeen anecdotes about the nintendo wii
by tim rogers
(note: this article originally appeared in the iPad magazine atomix. you could subscribe to it if you have an iPad. it’s pretty neat.)
1. The 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo
“So they have a new Zelda and a new Mario and a new Kirby — I wonder when Nintendo is going to do something new.”
“They did Pikmin, dude.”
Here’s where I step in: “That was literally ten years ago.”
“It was not ten years ago.”
“Yes it was.”
He checks his phone.
“Dude it was only nine and a half years ago.”
The other guy blinks.
“They’ve been making Super Mario games since 1985.”
Here’s where I tweet:
“If the Microsoft Kinect = ‘You Are The Controller’, the Nintendo Wii U = ‘Your Living Room Is The Nintendo DS’.”
This is, for the record, the first tweet of mine to ever get more than 100 retweets. Most of the retweeters were subsequently called “Microsoft Fanboy”.
2. SIX YEARS EARLIER: The 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo
Nintendo President Satoru Iwata gets up on the stage. It’s rumored he’ll unveil the successor to the Nintendo Gamecube. I am inhaling a banana-nut muffin which I smuggled in under both my jacket and the watchful eye of security.
Iwata comes out with a black rectangle in his hand.
This is our next game console, he says. He stresses that it’s “the size of three DVD cases stacked one on top of another”.
“I wonder if his even mentioning DVDs means that they’re going to go with DVDs for a storage medium?” one blogger asks another.
Then they show the new Zelda. It’s a naturalist Zelda; it looks something like “Lord of the Rings”.
The cheers are deafening.
Later, I’m at a party
“Nintendo brought the house down,” one full-grown man says to another.
“They’re in it to win it,” the other man says, sipping a drink.
“Number one with a bullet,” the first man says.
“New Zelda, new console — there’s not going to be any stopping of them in this upcoming hardware generation.”
“Their console’s probably just a Gamecube rearranged so it’s more of a rectangle.”
“Fuck you, Sony Fanboy,” the one guy says, in as many words.
This was at Sony’s party at Dodger Stadium.
3. ONE YEAR EARLIER: The 2004 Electronic Entertainment Expo
“Nintendo is pure class. They know what they’re doing.”
“That DS — that thing came out of nowhere.”
“It’s smart,” I say. “It’s like an EyeToy where you use your finger instead of your whole body. It’s going to allow for some creative game designs,” I say.
“Fuck you, Sony Fanboy.”
4. FIFTEEN MONTHS LATER: The 2005 Tokyo Game Show
Nintendo, uncharacteristically, holds a press event before Japan’s biggest gaming convention. They usually abstain from this convention.
At last, after hinting at E3 that it was something so special they couldn’t show it just yet, Nintendo unveils the Nintendo “Revolution”’s controller.
“Just . . . speechless.”
“This changes everything.”
“That should be the headline.”
“‘This Changes Everything’.”
“It’d suck to play Street Fighter on, though, wouldn’t it?”
“I mean, if you were going to put Street Fighter on it.”
I step in: “The idea is that developers should make new sorts of games to take advantage of this new type of control.”
“Yeah — . . . yeah.”
“It could be brilliant,” I say. “It’s like a Nintendo DS on your television.”
“. . . Yeah!”
“Which is to say, it’s . . . like a Sony EyeToy where you have something in your hand.”
“. . . Fucking Sony fanboy.”
Hours later, I’m in a hotel room in Tokyo with Cliff Bleszinski. It’s not what you think. He’s showing me Gears of War on an Xbox 360.
“I like the grenade arc,” I say. I do: I like how the game draws a neat little line, and you can pitch it up and down by tilting.
Bleszinski says that, yeah, they wanted to put a depth of nuance there in that particular action.
“You guys should make this game for the Nintendo Revolution.”
Bleszinski laughs hard enough for it to qualify as a “lol”.
“Yeah, you could throw the controller at the screen.”
5. NINE MONTHS LATER: The 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo
Sony announced that the PlayStation 3’s controller would be tilt-sensitive.
“They’re ripping off the Wii.”
“Well,” I say, “it’s technically a different sort of thing. You’re tilting — you’re not pointing. The Wii is like a mouse. It’s like a . . . it’s like an air mouse.”
None of us had actually played a Wii at this point.
“They ripped them off.”
I sigh. “The DS sort of ‘ripped off’ the EyeToy. The Famicom D-pad sort of ‘ripped off’ the Atari 2600 joystick. Give it a rest.”
“Sony fanboy asshole.”
6. FIVE MONTHS LATER: Early November 2006
YouTube is a thing I have started enjoying. And there it is: a guy is bowling on his Wii. He throws his controller through his plasma television. The internet is laughing at him. I think about Cliff Bleszinski.
A friend of mine was sitting on my sofa. She was knitting a scarf.
“Are you going to get one of those?”
“I . . . I guess I have to.”
“Be careful not to destroy your TV.”
I had a decent forty-inch Sony Bravia. It was state-of-the-art at the time: the first affordably priced 1080p television.
“I don’t think you have to whip the controller as hard as the guy does in this video.”
“. . . Then why is he doing it?”
7. SEVEN YEARS EARLIER: September 8th, 1999: College Mall, Bloomington, Indiana
It’s the day before the Sega Dreamcast is released in North America. There’s me: I am twenty years old, three months from graduating from university, owner of a triathlon physique, and an employee at Gamestop — where I work twelve hours a week for the joy of reaping the thirty-percent discount (which also applies to Barnes and Noble).
The Sega Dreamcast’s launch lineup is superb: Soul Calibur, Sonic Adventure, and NFL 2K. We’ve got all these games on the demo kiosk, and they’re fantastic.
One guy in a trucker cap and a flannel shirt says to another guy, in one unbroken stream of words with no period:
“I’m just going to wait for that PlayStation 2 it’s got the internet in it”
I want to say: No, it doesn’t have the internet in it. The Dreamcast, however, does. I don’t say it. I know he wouldn’t listen to me.
8. SEVEN YEARS AND TWO MONTHS LATER: November 2006: Marunouchi Subway Line Train leaving Ginza Station, Tokyo, Japan
“I’ve been thinking about getting a Nintendo DS.”
“Oh! You should!”
One of the two lovely young professional women shows the other her baby blue Nintendo DS Lite.
“It tells me how old my brain is.”
“I want to know how old my brain is, too!”
The train stops; the doors open; the doors close; the train starts again.
“What about this Wii thing?”
“It looks wonderful.”
“Does it tell you how old your brain is?”
“I think so. It can also connect to the internet! How great is that? You can check your email on your television.”
“That’s amazing,” the other girl says, still staring wide-eyed at the gadget which is telling her friend how old her brain is. “That’s truly amazing.”
“We live in amazing times!”
“Truly amazing,” says the wide-eyed girl. Her cellular phone buzzes; she removes it from her purse; she silently spends a string of moments clicking out an email on her telephone on this fast-moving subterranean vehicle. When she’s done, she snaps the phone shut. Her friend has put the DS away and is looking dead ahead. The train stops.
“This is my stop.”
“Have a nice evening!”
“I’ll see you after New Year’s!”
“Yes! I’ll look forward to it.”
9. TWO WEEKS LATER: December 2nd, 2006: Nintendo Wii Launch Day: Ueno: Tokyo: Japan
I pick up a ticket at the Yodobashi Camera in Ueno the night before the Wii launch. It says I’m number seventeen.
They’re not letting people line up overnight for the Wii. Maybe Nintendo doesn’t want what happened to the PlayStation 3 to happen to them: two-dozen-dozen homeless men lined up for a day, receiving money — just as they reach the front of the line — from a woman who obviously didn’t work for the store.
I go down to Ueno in the morning. I get in line: I’m guaranteed a Wii. The line is pretty long. Two tobacco-stinking guys in velour track suits saunter by and ask a shop kid what the line’s for.
“It’s for the Nintendo Wii.”
“Nintendo?” asks one of the track-suiters. He’s chewing a toothpick.
The other track-suiter lights a cigarette.
“It’s going to be popular, eh?”
“Like that DS, eh?”
“Y-y-yes,” says the shop boy.
“When do you open?”
“In . . . in a few minutes, s-s-sirs.”
“Alright — we’ll get in line right here behind this white-skinned fellow.”
“I’m — I’m sorry, sirs — you need a reservation ticket.”
The one guy takes the toothpick out of his mouth and points its chewed sharp end at the shop kid.
“Why don’t you call your manager down here?”
“I’m sorry, sirs–we–we have a policy.”
“Call your manager down here and you can watch us wring his neck.”
“Or we can just cut out the middle-man and wring yours.”
The kid blinks.
“You may stand right here.”
I wonder what happened with those guys at the cashier.
Back home, later, I didn’t like that Link wasn’t left-handed anymore.
“Did you get Wii Sports?” my friend asked me, on the telephone.
“What? No. Why would I get that?”
“New Years holidays are coming up,” he said.
“What does that mean? You’re the one with the fiancee and the extended Japanese family.”
“All you got was Zelda?”
“How is it?”
“I’ve already gone back to books.”
“Ahh, books. So it’s shit?”
“No. It’s well-made and all that.”
“How about the Wii? Is the Wii shit?”
I look at it.
“I’m pretty sure if I soaked it in warm water overnight I’d wake up to a pot full of odd-shaped pasta.”
“Well, I’m going to buy one.”
The New Year came and went. My friend brought Wii Sports and three controllers over to my place. We played Wii Sports, them all standing up and me sitting on the sofa, twiddling the Wii Remote to shake my tennis racket. I kept up fairly well.
“Come on — put your heart into it.”
“My heart is into it.”
“You know what I mean, mate.”
“Get into the spirit. Live a little. Use your imagination.”
“I want the game to use its imagination for me.”
10. TWO WEEKS LATER: An office party, two weeks before New Year’s Eve 2006
“He’s got a Nintendo Wii at home!”
“A Nintendo Wii! You asshole!”
“Look at this ladies’ man, here,” The Boss says.
“Huh?” I say. “I really wish people would stop insinuating that I’m a ladies’ man because I own a Wii.”
“I bet you invite them over for ‘Wii Sports’ all the time!”
“I . . . actually just have Zelda–”
“Har har! Get him some more booze!”
“I don’t drink,” I say.
Minutes pass; the executive grows morose.
“Why would you buy a Wii? How the fuck could you? Don’t you know they’re turning a profit on every console sold? Those assholes. They’re our direct competitor! Us and them — we’re in competition again.”
It’s worth noting that all this time I had been working for Sony Computer Entertainment Japan.
“Look — look. Don’t you guys know about knowing your enemy?”
“I already know plenty about my enemy.”
“Have you played a Wii?”
The executive’s eyes were red (so was the rest of his face): “Are you trying to tell me I don’t know my enemy?”
I thought of the guys who had muscled into the space in line behind me.
“Nah,” I said. “Nah — forget about it.”
Silence dripped from the ceiling for a few moments.
“Hah! Get him some more booze!”
11. ONE WEEK LATER: A trashy club in Shibuya, the week before New Year’s Eve 2006
“What do you do? Where do you work?”
“I oil pulleys at a cardboard box factory.”
“No — not really. I sell wheelchairs to people who aren’t handicapped.”
“What — why?” She was quiet for a moment. “I’m confused.”
“This guy works at Sony! Sony!”
“No I don’t. I am a professional darts player.”
“Does that pay well?”
“I work for tips.”
“Come on, man — come on!”
My friend jabbed me in the ribs. He made a grab for my wallet. I had to fight him for a cartoony five seconds. He got my wallet and yanked out my alien registration card.
“See?” He held up the card and pointed at the “Sponsor” blank. “Sony! He works for Sony.” He patted me on the shoulder.
The makeup-sticky Disney-princess-shaped human-like crystalline perfect person replica in front of me let out a squeal.
She sipped some of her cartoon-colored whiskey drink through a lady-cigarette-thin straw.
“Sony. I bet you make a lot of money.”
“I spend it all on motorcycle engine parts.”
“Oh,” she said. She was silent. “Oh.”
(I’d find out later that her previous boyfriend, an investment banker, had died in a motorcycle accident.)
“Bull shit — man, be cool. Hey, he doesn’t even have a motorcycle. He’s a laid-back guy. Like me!”
Her eyes rose again toward me. They glinted. They darted to my friend — his hand was on top of her friend’s hand.
“So what do you do at Sony? Are you an inventor?”
“What? No. I work in marketing.”
“Oh,” she said. “Oh. Games, huh.”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds.”
“Do you have a lot of games at home, or what?”
“Nah,” I said. “I hate games.”
“Me, too!” she said, brightening up.
(I’d find out later that her previous motorcycle-accident-dead investment-banker boyfriend had owned a lot of videogames.)
“Well, we have something in common.”
“I have a Nintendo DS, though,” she said. “I was thinking of getting a Wii.”
“Oh, hey, I have one of those.”
“Maybe I could come over sometime and play Wii Sports.”
“Sure,” I said.
She came over the next day; we had sex. She didn’t even look at the Wii: if she had, she’d have seen that I definitely didn’t have Wii Sports.
A couple days after that she emailed me to explain that she was actually engaged, and that I shouldn’t call her again.
12. THREE MONTHS LATER: The streets of Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan, February 2007
I took a friend who was a fellow marketing person to an Indian restaurant. Afterward, we went to a convenience store and groaned at popular culture as visible in magazines.
“God. Hell. Look at this: this ‘things I like to do with my boyfriend’ poll.”
“Oh, god,” I said.
“Play Wii Sports” was number two.
Somehow, an hour later, we were walking around corners and down alleys in the love hotel district, asking at every front desk if they had a Wii in the room. How the evening had escalated to this is anyone’s guess.
The answer was unanimously, “Yes, though you’ll need to bring your own software.”
“Are the controllers regularly cleaned?” my friend asked, a little notepad and pencil in her hands.
“Why . . . uhhm . . . yes? Yes. Yes, they are.”
“I didn’t believe that guy.”
“We might be on to something,” my friend said.
I think she used that data somewhere. I’m not sure where.
13. SIX MONTHS LATER: Tokyo, August 2007
My good friend texts me out of the blue. I haven’t seen her in six months. She suffers from clinical depression. She also does cosplay — maids and cat-girls, mostly.
“Hey — long time no talk. I was just thinking about many things, and eventually I found myself thinking what great fun it would be if you and I were to hang out.”
I replied immediately — here was a person I liked a lot. She was never irritating. I had lately been flustered with work and various other insults to an aspiring relaxation enthusiast.
“It would be wonderful to hang out with you. I swear I will hang out with you all day. Where shall we hang out? Akihabara? Yokohama? Let’s hang out somewhere neat. Or we can drink Cokes in Saizeriya all day — whatever you’re up for.”
Her reply was fast like electricity: “I was thinking I would come to your house and we would play videogames. Also, maybe that you could teach me some guitar.”
“That sounds excellent.”
She said she’d be over at noon on Saturday — so early! — and I agreed. Early Saturday morning, a text arrived:
“You have a Nintendo Wii, right?”
“Yes, I do,” I said.
“OK!” was her reply.
She brought over a canvas backpack full of Famicom cartridges.
“Nice,” I said. She had Clash at Demonhead. That’s no game to sneeze at. Neither is The Guardian Legend.
“What do you want to play?”
“Well — I don’t have a Famicom anymore. My old one broke.”
“Oh — I thought you had a Wii.”
“I . . . I do.”
“I thought you could play your old games on your Wii.”
“Oh . . . you . . . can . . . sort of.”
We went to Akihabara and bought me a new Famicom. I’d been wanting one, anyway.
We had us a grand old time with that Famicom and those games.
14. ONE YEAR LATER: October, 2008: Tokyo, Japan
I met a girl at a party during Tokyo Game Show. She worked at a venerable old Japanese game company that a larger company was going to buy out very soon. She was gorgeous. She could one-credit Ibara. She was working on The Graphics for a new installment in one of my favorite old series. We talked for a while; she asked me where I worked; I said I worked at the 7-Eleven downstairs and I didn’t know how I’d gotten up here; she giggled; she asked, no, really, where do you work? And my friend sidled by, told me to stop giving her such a hard time, and told her that I was a game designer at Grasshopper Manufacture.
“Oh! Hey! I played No More Heroes,” she said. “Did you work on that?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“In what manner of speaking?”
“In the literal sense, is what I meant.”
“You know, that’s the only game I have on my Wii.”
“Oh yeah? No Wii Sports? No Wii Fit?”
She shook her head. She giggled.
“I mostly just use it to play Rondo of Blood on Virtual Console.”
“Or Castlevania III.”
We had one of those things, for the next couple of weeks: she texted me, and I texted her, and she texted me — dozens of times a day. We each had iPhones. We texted each other about how neat it was to text on an iPhone, and see our texts arranged like a chat window.
One night I decided to text her an invitation to hang out: “Hey, so, Wii Music comes out tomorrow. Want to come over to my place and play it with me? If you don’t come over, I’ll play it by myself (while crying). If you do come over, we can cry together.”
“That sounds like amazing fun,” she said.
She brought her boyfriend with her.
“I thought you had Wii Music.”
“Oh. No. I . . . I didn’t get it. I was . . . going to.”
15. EIGHT MONTHS LATER: June 27th, 2009: Tokyo, Japan
“Hey hey,” I said. “Long time no chat.”
“Long time indeed, mate. Been busy — you know how it is.”
“So what’s up?”
“Just checking in! We’re having a little pre-wedding party next week for her friends and mine, and I thought I’d invite you.”
“Oh, right — yeah, I can probably make it to that. Say, hey, what are you doing Right This Minute?”
“Was thinking about having a shit and then smoking a couple of cigarettes. Football on the telly.”
“I’m sure someone’s playing.”
“Why don’t you get on over here? We’ve got that Wii Sports Resort and a couple Motion Pluses. We’re hysterical over here.”
“I don’t know — I burned out on Wii Sports at the missus’s parents’ place back on New Year’s Day Oh-Seven.”
She’s already “The missus”.
“Oh, come on — this one’s great,” I insist. “It’s got everything the old one didn’t have. It’s got nuance and depth and skill. It’s marvelous. It’s just — a whole bunch of really well-designed little games.”
He listened to me talk about it. He asked interested questions.
Finally: “Nah — I really . . . I didn’t wake up today feeling like I was going to go out.”
“I’ll leave you guys to it.”
He left us to it.
16. November 18th, 2011: Oakland, California, USA
I asked Bob if he could loan me his Wii.
“Use your own Wii.”
“My Wii is Japanese.” I wanted to play the American version of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
“Hack your Wii.”
“I don’t want to hack it, nor would I know how to hack it.”
“It’s not hard.”
Bob links me to some forums. “There you go.”
“I have no idea what I’m looking at, here,” I said.
“You don’t even want to play the game, anyway. It’s awful. You have to calibrate the Motion Plus every twenty darn seconds.” He paused. “Sometimes every ten darn seconds.”
I asked my friend Brandon Sheffield if I could borrow his Wii.
“Just for a week, so I can play through that new Zelda. I’ll give it back when I’m done. And I’ll even let you keep the Zelda.”
“I’d sell the Zelda,” he says. “And I don’t even know if I can find my Wii.”
“Well, if you find it, let me know.”
“I keep meaning to sell it to GameStop.”
“If that ninety-nine-dollar price cut happens, they’re going to buy it back from you for sixteen dollars.”
“I’ll give you eighteen right now.”
“I’ll see if I can find it.”
He couldn’t find it.
I got on Craigslist. I searched for “Wii”. I was instantly hooked. Four hours passed, during which I amassed a great folder full of images of peoples’ Wiis. In four hours, I’d seen a million and a half photographs of Wii remotes on scuzzy carpets with loud digital camera flashes. Every Wii photograph on Craigslist is a jumble of white plastic and wires and games without their DVD cases. The words “Like new”, “only played twice”, “only played at family get-togethers”, “Wii Sports included”, and “Wii Fit Balance Board never used” infect the listings like bacteria.
“Like new: Nintendo Wii with Wii Sports and two games (Just Dance and Just Dance 2). Wii Fit and Balance Board (never used). $400 or best offer.”
“Four hundred dollars . . .” I whisper. And it makes perfect sense. They want to break even, the same way Nintendo made a profit.
No — no — maybe it’s not that. They don’t feel like the thing has devalued at all. I suppose that’s something.
A chat message pops up from Bob.
“Hey — I found you a Wii.”
“You remember my big box full of cords?”
Twelve hours later, I’m playing Zelda: Skyward Sword.
Five minutes later, my Wii Remote’s batteries are dead.
Twelve hours later, I’m having fun (maybe because of Zelda).
17. December 17th-25th, 2011: Oakland, California and Indianapolis, Indiana
I wheel my suitcase past the neighbor’s window. I live in a converted warehouse. The living-room windows are twenty feet tall. His curtain is parted. He’s got Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 on a seventy-inch LED HDTV and an enormous glass bong in his lap. He’s a professional computer programmer. I roll my suitcase past the building manager’s window: her kids are playing with an iPad, and the dog is yapping. Her husband is sweeping the deck; he gives me a little wave.
Now it’s Christmas in my parents’ house in Indianapolis, Indiana. My mother has covered the sofa with white sheets: my brother’s eldest daughter is allergic to cat hair. My little brother explains to his wife that their five-month-old son definitely enjoys watching football, because his arm moved following an act of Tebow.
“Is that an iPhone 4S?” my big brother’s wife asks me.
“No; it’s just an iPhone 4.”
“I’ve got a 4S,” she says. “Is that a MacBook Air?”
“What’s the processor in that?”
“It’s an i5.”
“I’ve got a MacBook Pro,” she says.
“Do you have this app?”
She shows me an app.
“No, I don’t think I do.”
“You should get it.”
“Mom, you’ve got to watch the kids play this thing,” my brother says to my mom. “They go nuts.”
“We got the girls a Wii,” my brother’s wife says to me. “It was ninety-nine dollars.”
My brother puts on Just Dance Kids. The music selection is horrible. Every song is the sort of song you could loop in a room if you wanted a prisoner to kill himself. Since it’s the “kids’” version, a chorus of pre-schoolers replaces the original vocal track.
My dad is sipping a beer. My dad is sixty-one. He spent thirty years of his life in the US Army.
“Look at this,” he mutters.
The girls are jumping and shrieking. One of them has a score of zero. Her Wii Remote must be broken. They don’t care.
“Be careful you don’t put that remote through my TV!” my dad says, in that grandfatherly sort of joking way.
My dad looks at me. “You know about these video games,” he says. “How does this work? They don’t even have to be jumping around, do they?”
“Nah,” I say. “The controller is pretty simple.”
When the kids are bored and eating pumpkin pie, my dad gives it a shot. He does the wrist strap. he grips the rubber-covered remote. “What . . . what the hell–” he says. “How do I — I’m gonna strangle myself with this damn thing.” He looks at the thing he’s attached to himself. “This looks like something you’d use to tie down Hannibal Lecter.”
Sitting in his armchair against one wall, he makes do with tiny gestures. He performs perfectly on “Who Let The Dogs Out”.
Next, they’re playing Wii Sports. There’s a Mii of my dad on there already. My dad has never played it before. He holds the Wii Remote like a bowling ball, and lets it go with grace. He picks up a couple of pins. My brother’s five-year-old fastens the remote strap and whips her entire body at the screen. She scores a strike.
“That’s not even like bowling at all,” my dad says. He gives the Wii Remote a good right hook in the direction of the television. He gets a strike.
Now he’s sitting in his chair.
“You know what was neat?” my dad says. “Asteroids. Asteroids was neat as heck.”
“Yes!” I say. I stand up. I point at him. Then I point at my brother’s seven-year-old daughter. Then I point at my dad again. “Yes! Yes, it was!”