Monthly media and arts column
The urban dictionary has defined Generation Wii as those aged between 12 and 18 in 2008.
These are the youngsters who see Atari’s early 80’s Pong game as the ancient relic of a bygone era. Video games have come a very long way since that hypnotic little square white dot zinging to and fro on a ten-inch, slightly greenish screen.
Today’s most popular games no longer involve sitting alone in a darkened room in front of a lonely TV or computer, instead they ask you to leap around with great activity and to interact with other non-virtual, i.e. real, people. Yet even the Nintendo Wii, the precursor of motion sensor control gaming, is moving into the past as new consoles make advances in sensor and 3D technology.
Out of date already?
In front of me in the queue at the Game store, a young woman loads her Wii console and about 23 games on the counter in a part-exchange deal. She declares that, in her family at least, ‘No one wants to play Wii no more’. The shop assistant agrees with her: ‘Everyone’s playing Playstation 3 or Xbox360’. He says: ‘It’s just better’. I reflect on the recent addition of the Wii to our home and consider the extreme excitement that has accompanied this ‘past-it’ pastime over the last month or so. After all, it’s not exactly Snakes and Ladders.
The rest of the world might agree. Since its launch in 2006, over 80 million Wii consoles have been sold worldwide, half of them in Japan and the US. Although that comes nowhere near the popularity of the Playstation 2, with 152 million units sold since its release in 2000, it is the quickest selling and awaits the effect that the new improved consoles will have on the market.
Traditional views challenged
The impact of the Wii can also be seen across the generations. After Sunday lunch today, I found myself discussing the pros and cons of the trainer advice on Wii Fit Plus with a grandmother of 12. The stereotype of the ‘gamer’ as a black t-shirted, socially dislocated, overweight teenaged boy needs to pass, since they simply no longer form the majority of players. In fact, the worldwide average age of ‘gamers’ is as high as 32, with only 25% under 18 and two-fifths of them female. The traditional perception that video games mostly involve tanks and ninjas is being turned around by the fact that the most popular Wii games are sports based. The competition is less governed by speedy thumb work, leading to repetitive strain injury, and more about real athletic control over balance, hand-eye co-ordination and body movement.
The effect on obesity is inevitably being challenged by a recent study, which reports that playing even sedentary video games is less of a predictor of a child’s weight than race, age and socio-economic status. The researchers even found some benefits of technology use, in higher reading scores and better visuospatial skills, although these were often paired with lower school grades and lower self-esteem (quoted in New Scientist, January 15 2011, p.22).
Test all things
As always, the value of any exciting cultural trend or technology needs to be held up and tested against the wisdom of God’s word. Even objections against a new development like the Wii need to be assessed in this light. We’re studying Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians in our home group at the moment and we’ve been in chapter 1 trying to dig around and work out exactly what those spiritual blessings are and asking ourselves if we’re glad about them.
God’s plan puts the zap and ping of interactive game playing mightily in the shade when we consider what being ‘included in Christ’ might mean. The excitement that flows from the truths about being adopted, known and forgiven by God is energised by his presence in our lives through his Holy Spirit, a vivid and interactive reality. There is no doubt that playing Wii and other games is great fun, but we need to constantly test its benefits against the spiritual blessing and benefits of God’s plan in Jesus. Like anything else in our lives, if the Wii numbs our response to him and to others, it is probably better to put it in the bin.