Are mini-games the reality TV of videogaming?

5 12 2006

via Keith Stuart Games Guardian

Everybody loves Wii. I think it’s safe to assume that now. But there’s something worrying within the pervasive success of this unassuming machine. As you know, the console ships with Wii Sports a collection of fun little sporting mini-games designed for quick, accessible entertainment. If purchasers fork out for an extra controller they also get Wii Play, another bunch of tiny challenges. That is a lot of instant gratification gameplay, right there at the start of a new generation. And as Wii has been on the ‘Gadgets of the Year’ lists of most technology magazines, newspapers and lifestyle rags, the machine is pretty much setting up the mainstream agenda for the industry. For may people re-introducing themselves to videogaming after several years of intermittent SingStar abuse, is that agenda going to be defined by mini-games?

This feels very much like the current situation with Reality TV: it’s quick and cheap to produce and there are almost no barriers to entry, which means customers are sucked in very fast. And, like the spike in blood sugars after a fast food hit, the thrill of the experience is as brief as it is addictive. When one reality TV experience is over, viewers seem ready, extremely quickly, for the next. Hence our TV schedules are filled to bursting point with cheap, mindless reality formats.

Mini-games work our cranial pleasure centres in the same way, jamming them with instant fun, but always leaving you wanting more. It’s all about quantity. It’s all about surface enjoyment. It is possible to get good at Wii Sports, but really, in the way the mainstream media wants us to play games, that’s almost beside the point. We are being diverted onto a highway of cheap electronic thrills – five minutes of guilty fun, quickly forgotten en route to some place else. Mini-games are snacks, they are not ‘destination venues’, to use the parlance of the restaurant trade.

There’s been a real assumption in a lot of Wii coverage, that this is what Nintendo’s console is all about. You don’t have to be any good, just wave the controller around and have a laugh. The instant availability of two big mini-game packages may compound that – as might the downloadable retro games. So when a lot of new Wii owners come up against Zelda, which is going to require hours of effort and exploration (and is actually more indicative of the Nintendo philosophy – quality, engrossing entertainment for all) – is that going to clash with expectations? Will consumers be willing to make that investment?

The risk with “shallow” mini-games is that they also risk becoming boring very quickly. I find it very hard now to play a full 18 holes of Super Monkey Ball Golf without itching for something different after about 7 of them.

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