The Medium is the Message: Success of the Wii

I still remember vividly when I first got my hands on the Nintendo Wii. The studio was abuzz, and my friends all felt we knew it was going to be the next big thing. But every business expert said it would never succeed (over the PS3, nantch). The graphics weren’t pretty enough. It didn’t have the technical chops. The Wii would be just a fad. No one will remember it a few years later.

I’m in the air over England right now and I cracked open Al Gore’s Assault on Reason for some light reading and came across this passage, quoting Neil Postman:

“Every technology has a philosophy which is a given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards. This idea is the sum and substance of what the great Catholic prophet Marshall McLuhan meant when he coined the famous sentence ‘The medium is the message.’”

Most video games are fads. The media hype around the massive simultaneous launch is the defining way to generate fads. How many games are played for more then a week? A day?  Entertainment, both play and art, is inherently short lived. It conveys it’s ideas and it’s experience and then moves on.

We should have seen it coming with the Nintendo DS. The Wii was never different because it was a fad. It was different because it was a different medium, a kinetic medium. It starts to truly fulfill the promise of video games, the promise of interactive television, the promise of holodeck.

This was Jonathan Blow’s fear and hope in Montreal. Video games as a whole will shape the mind and the society by the philosophy they inherently espouse. The philosophy we collectively imbue them with. The significance of the Wii is that it shows the audience can react to and reward those who strive for more. To push our brains to new heights of learning, of feeling, even of reason.

The next winner is the fad to take this one step forward. Which part of my brain will your medium engage next?


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