Sunday, January 19, 2014

Nintendo's Future, Re-opinioned

One of the things I kept coming back to in Jake’s and my argument about the future of videogames is that I just don’t see the future being too terribly different from the present. In other words, I don’t think that the technological singularity is going to happen as quickly as Jake is afraid it’s going to. I do think it will happen, but not soon.

In our “discussion,” I referenced the incomparable Mr. Stephen Fry and his BBC radio show “Fry’s English Delight,” specifically the episode about the future of the English language as compared to today. I brought up one particular point made by one of the guests on the show about how, obviously, it is impossible to predict the future (hell, the singularity could happen tomorrow, or next month, or next year), but you can make predictions based upon precedent, specifically, how things have happened in the past. In the show, Fry posited the question about whether in, say, 200 years, the English language would be, to contemporary speakers and readers, completely indecipherable or not. The answer was a definitive “no.”

What the f...?
And here’s why: the only thing we have to go on is history, and, looking back at the history of the English language, we can go back much farther than only 200 years, in fact. We can go all the way to Shakespeare or Chaucer and still understand their English, albeit with some difficulty, especially with archaic words and word spellings and meanings. If we can understand them, it’s likely that we will be able to understand our future language, albeit with difficulty. There’s more to it, but that’s the relevant idea. We should be able to understand and get along. And I think that is directly applicable to the future of video game consoles.

Again, it’s my opinion that the technological black hole will happen, I’d be shocked if it didn’t, but I don’t think it will be as quick as it’s feared. And the reason why is both the past, and people.

People don’t change much, all considered. Look at the older generation: how many of them play video games? Very few, I’d wager. Is it because they just don’t understand all these new-fangled gadgets, or is it because they don’t understand why kids these days can’t just go outside and play, or is it because they’d rather just read a book, or keep a garden, or any other number of excuses they give? Well, yes, exactly. It’s not because they think games are inherently stupid (well, they might, but they’re wrong), it’s because it’s not what they grew up doing. It’s not what they're used to.

"I've been googling 'Jenna' all day, but only
 one of them was my granddaughter."
And we’re all like that. I remember looking at the original Wii, thinking, “man, I just don’t want to be forced to wave my arms to play a game.” And, to a degree, I still feel that way. And, apparently, so does everyone else. Of course, the action games like Wii Sports or Wii Fit that make you flail like a 5 year old still exist, but the casual game that anybody can pick up and play is, more or less, a gimmick. Most gamers, the so-called hardcore crowd, are used to using old-school control schemes, and are thus more comfortable with that kind of setup. The Wii U is a response to that (even if a slightly cumbersome one), and the overall de-focus on wand-waving is evidence as well. Wand-waving is around, but it will never replace classic controls… Until the kids today grow up and become video game company leaders who only want to play games where flailing is a necessity.

But, I’d say, where this is really important, the whole “used-to” factor I mean, is with the Game Boy.

Portable gaming has come a long way. A long, long way. Portable gaming is everywhere from Apple and Android devices to popular Nintendo and Sony handhelds to little 3rd party screens that play Pong and other older games, usually sidescrollers like Contra­ or 1942. Jake thinks – fears – that portable gaming will be taken over completely by the iDevices and that the Game Boy (and DS, and 3DS) as we know it will cease to exist. This is where we completely disagree.

It doesn't look 30.
Did you know that the Game Boy has been around nearly 30 years? Good god, that’s a long time for a gadget to live. Granted, they’re not all the same, we’re talking Game Boys, GB Colors, GB Advances, DSes, and now 3DSes, but the fact remains that, despite the upgrades, it’s the same device that serves the same purpose: portable video games. The demand for which has not only not decreased, but has remained so outstandingly popular that every kid everywhere ever wants or has at one point wanted one, especially in 2013 (supported by factual basis). Kids, known for being fickle bastards, have remained loyal to Nintendo for all these years, and Nintendo kids like Jake grew up and continue to be loyal even as adults. Regardless of how amazing and powerful new cell phones and tablets will continue to become (and what emulators they employ), they simply don’t replace holding a proper Game Boy and booting up Tetris or Pokémon in the car on a family trip or on the train going to work.

But here’s where it gets tricky: languages are living, breathing entities that change as people change; technology is dictated by the speed of progress, and isn’t dependent on rate of spread. There could very well be a new tech in the next few years that will entirely replace the need for a Game Boy in any sense (a perfect, and I mean perfect cell phone virtual control pad, for instance). But that’s impossible to predict. It might happen, it might not. You could argue cell phones and iPods already have replaced Game Boys, and there’s valid argument, but, as Jake argued and with which I agree, Nintendo’s catalog of games is not to be trifled with, and I don’t see Nintendo giving up its exclusive publishing rights to Mario, Pokémon, Metroid, Donkey Kong, Zelda, etc. If for some reason they ever decide to give up in the proper console war, they’ll be able to focus solely on building their own proprietary Game Boy hardware (and software) and still succeed.

But if they want to win this console war (which they don’t appear too troubled about, honestly), they’ve got to utilize the Virtual Console intelligently. Why is the Wii U cupboard so bare? Why did it take years and years for EarthBound to come to any VC, and then only to one VC? Why in the world are they treating each specific system’s VC as separate and individual? If Nintendo is smart, they’ll take a page out of the PSN manual and merge the VCs together, actually get their shit together in regard to back catalog game releases, and use every single resource at their disposal, namely the Gamecube, N64, and Dreamcast licenses they no doubt have access to. Jake’s mention of getting Shenmue on the VC? That came from me, yo. I would gladly pay for the ability to play Shenmue on a console I still currently own and use (my Dreamcast in my fluent language is across the sea), but I don’t appear to have anywhere to throw my money to make that happen. Why the fuck not, Nintendo?!

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. Oh.
Or Sony. Or Microsoft. I’m not pressed.

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