"If earlier Nintendo systems made video games safe for homes and families, the Wii U turns the tables: it attempts to make the current trends in the internet and consumer electronics safe for video games."
In a thoughtful new piece, professor Ian Bogost takes a look at Nintendo's new console, the Wii U. While many would-be prognosticators have tried to discuss the system's potential for success, and "reviewers" have graded it, Bogost instead tries to divine what Nintendo is both attempting to do and has actually succeeded at doing.
Its defining feature is, of course, the second screen on its GamePad controller. Bogost considers it as a response to the dual-screen lives many live today, torn between watching TV and interacting with tablets and phones.
"The sensation of being split between the television and the handheld computer feels strange and awkward. But isn't this precisely how all of us feel today, all the time?" Bogost writes. "If the Wii attached to television's past, the Wii U couples to its present."
Thanks to the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, argues Bogost, "the strange, uncomfortable space between the two" -- watching TV, interacting with the internet -- has become a default mode, if an uneasy one, for many.
"Like a lap only appears when you sit down, this weird interstitial space only exists when we activate both sorts of devices. It's not a two-screen experience, but a no-screen experience."
He argues, then, that Nintendo is not remotely attempting the same thing it did with the Wii -- making games accessible -- but instead navigating these choppy new waters. Can Nintendo heal the split between the screens?
"If earlier Nintendo systems made video games safe for homes and families, the Wii U turns the tables: it attempts to make the current trends in the internet and consumer electronics safe for video games. It's the first earnest, sustained, hardware-invested example of such an effort, and it's full of risk and danger."
The full analysis -- which also takes in launch indie title Little Inferno and thoughtfully critiques Nintendo Land -- is live now on Gamasutra.