Thursday, May 6, 2010

Philosophy of Video Games Pt. 2: The Wii Phenomenon

Following up yesterday's post, Philosophy of Video Games Pt. 1: I of the Player vs. I of the Avatar, I have read the next chapter of 'Philosophy Through Video Games' and, of course, have some thoughts. The chapter, 'The Game Inside the Mind, the Mind Inside the Game (The Nintendo Wii Gaming Cosnsole), looks at the ideas behind realism. It focuses on the Wii and why the Wii outsold the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3, even though it is the weaker console in terms of graphics and sound.

The authors look at how we perceive things and it is those perceptions that made the Wii such a hit.

The first thing they discuss is the theory of phenomenalism.

"According to this philosophical theory, people do not directly perceive the actual world, but instead experience a realm that is a function of their own private sensory manifold."

The book discusses this theory by stating that, "human beings live in a very similar feedback loop with respect to reality itself."

To interject my own theory here, perhaps 'real' life works with the same process that we would use when playing a game and we perceive ourselves and environment we embrace like we would in a game. Your arms and legs act as the controllers of things in your environment. I can couple that with the concept that the mind takes a fraction of a second to process every action that takes place so we never do exist in reality - no more than the Planet Zebes exists in 'real' life.

Phenomenalism is based on things not being interpretted factually but how it is perceived by the individual. So, it can vary from species to species and situation to situation. From feedback I received from part one of this series (Philosophy of Video Games Pt. 1: I of the Player vs. I of the Avatar this is exactly the case. For example, some players like to make their avatar's appearance and existence similar, if not identical, to their own 'real' attributes while other go the exact opposite and look at the entire experience as fantasy.

The book follows this up with the theory of enactivism.

Enactivism basically says that humans do directly perceive the world and use that as means to manipulate ourselves and surroundings - hence playing Wii golf gives a greater enjoyment since you feel you are actually participating in that world.

Their theories behind the reason for the Wii's success rest in the idea that we feel we are a part of the game because we have the ability to perform in the game using our own bodies instead of simply sitting on a couch with a controller. Even though aesthetically more pleasing, the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 fell short because it could not give the feel of participation and that changes the perception of the player to feel as though they are more closely in tuned with the game.

That being said, I don't know if any of that is really true. The Wii was a hit because, like an iPad or iPhone, it was different and it was fun. It brought out the non-hardcore gamer who had been missing since the NES and brought them back to the table. Hell, my 60-year old aunt has a Wii and you can't convince me it is because of her player-as-homunculus paradigm or because enactivism is true, it is because she played it and thought it was fun. On top of that, it was cheap when compared to the other consoles.


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