|Closing the Digital Generation Gap
The idea of anything new being multi-generational these days is nearly unthinkable. Ever since the 1960s brought about the counter-culture movement, the generation gap has only been getting wider and wider. This became marketed to a younger audience, leaving the elder to languish in what had come before, instead of what was going on in the now. The gap, for all its longevity, has only gotten wider.
Until recently that is. While there are certain circles where the generation gap has been utterly forgotten or ignored (comic book collectors for example), by and large the public has not seen a bridge between the old and young for some decades. Now, with a sharp note of irony, it seems video games are the chosen ambassadors between the elderly and the youth.
The introduction of the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii have marked major milestones in this effort. Tactile control and a low price point have managed to make the Wii a major player in family fun, transcending the rather arcane world of buttons and joysticks for something more universal. While motion sensing has its own share of shortcomings and faults (especially when implemented badly), it nonetheless offers an olive branch to the older generation by giving them something understandable.
For we the younger generation, buttons and joysticks have been our safe haven. They've been marketed to us for decades now, and they are our chosen implements in any virtual arena. But Nintendo changed all that by a sheer shift of marketing: Family. While Sega tried to target younger children with consoles like the Pico, no company has tried to angle for family fun as hard as Nintendo.
Now one might assume that because the original NES and its successor the SNES were marketed in Japan by the name Famicom, an abbreviation of Family Computer, this process started a long time ago. Perhaps it did, I have no real idea of how the advertising campaign went on over there. Either way, video games were a little too arcane for the older generation back then, especially when you consider some consoles like the Intellivision which had a downright esoteric controller at near thirteen buttons.
The Wii has a very wide target audience. Where the Famicom or NES may have had family-friendly censorship rules, there wasn't much to bridge the gap between the older consumer and the newer technology. The Wii brings the matter home with tactile input and a user-friendly interface.
If that sounds like one huge advertisement for the Wii, I apologize. My major thought is that I've grown up in a household where the generation gap doesn't really exist. My Grandmother is a regular fan of Harvest Moon and has been since it was first released on the SNES. My Grandfather can school me (and just about anyone I've seen) at Soul Calibur, a phenomenon I'm still baffled by. But it did take them an extensive amount of time to learn what buttons did what, and I always felt that there could be a better way for them to jump in.
While I don't feel the older generations are technology-stupid, I've known countless frustrations at overtly complex control schemes. To this day, I still fuss over the XBox360 having too many buttons, and the PS3's start-up console being too spartan in its delivery. Simple is not always better mind you, it can be just as confusing as something overloaded.
The whole idea is intuition. How quickly can a user adapt, and does it tap into their natural, everyday lives? Motion controls are a huge part of adaptation, I feel. A lot of titles do use them as a gimmick, which is really unfortunate considering the potential at hand. But even then, it's still easier for a hands-on person to deal with a bit of waggle than an obscure button combination like quarter-circle-forward-backwards-plus-A. The question is, as the generation gap closes, do we risk making a very large mistake?
The aforementioned idea of creating simplicity where you really want intuition is an issue. It's very easy to dumb everything down and make it too simple for its own good. Just because you can make sword-swings follow the path of a motion controller does not mean you should. There has to be something more to the game or it can be incredibly boring. Even when simplicity works, developers need to make sure it's spot-on or the whole experience can be rote and boring. WarioWare: Smooth Moves is a great example of a simple game with spot-on controls.
For some genres however, it's hard to find out where the controls should really be going. What do we do about RPGs or RTS titles? This is a question developers really need to address, because even Nintendo's own Fire Emblem team seems a bit troubled by the whole idea. It's not that Fire Emblem can't work with motion controls, but you have to reinvent certain things before it does. Reinvention of course, brings its own problems.
I'm an immense fan of how motion controls can change the way games are played. I'm also a huge supporter of closing the generation gap. It seems like after all this time, something of a distinctly young culture is being adopted by its elders. Be it the DS, the Wii, or another console, these are interesting times for adaptation on all fronts.
- Mark P. Tjan