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The Moment I Lost Faith In Nintendo

The Moment I Lost Faith In Nintendo

I’ve been a pretty much dyed-in-the-wool Nintendo fanboy for most of my life. Between their opening salvo of Tetris and a fateful Christmas morning of Super Mario 64 and GoldenEye, there was no going back. I’ve owned (deep breath) a Gameboy, Gameboy Pocket, N64, Gameboy Advance, Gameboy Advance SP, Gamecube, DS, Wii, 3DS, and now the Wii U. And other than a few gaming PCs, that’s it. Ask 10-year-old me, and he’d have probably told you that buying a PlayStation was only slightly preferable to Grievous Bodily Harm when it came to morally acceptable behaviour. It just wasn’t on. Cold hard reason has led me to soften my stance but, perhaps crucially, I’ve somehow never quite justified the cost of any other consoles. Latent PlayStationphobia perhaps, but somehow I’ve never quite been pushed into purchasing anything non-Nintendo.

All of that excessive (and perhaps embarrassing?) buildup is to really drive home the significance of my saying that I’m not sure I can really consider Nintendo my favourite videogame developer, or publisher, any more. This isn’t an uncommon position - sadly, I imagine they’re all too aware how many fans have drifted away over the years. But I might be a slightly unusual case.

Nintendo president & CEO Satoru Iwata at the 2011 GDC

Nintendo president & CEO Satoru Iwata at the 2011 GDC

You see, I didn’t mind the Wii and its motion controls - I actually still think they’re pretty neat. The Wii U and its daft name didn’t send me over the edge - I’m very fond of my Wii U, as limited as its library may be. Even the reliance on rehashing old tropes and trotting out a Mario game for every sport, hobby, or basic human activity hasn’t bothered me - I’d actually probably consider buying Mario Laundry whenever they get that desperate. No, what’s tipped me over the edge is the recent comments by Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president and CEO, clarifying a position I’d long suspected: that the future of gaming, and Nintendo, lies in toys, not art.

Why games as art matter

Now, I’ve got a bit of a bias here. I’m a wannabe philosopher, and have written a paper and worked extensively on the idea that video games not only can be, but already are, artworks. And I don’t just mean the Bioshocks and Heavy Rains of the video game world, I mean (pretty much) all of them. Sure, something like Aliens: Colonial Marines may not be very good art - but it is still art. There’s no shortage of bad art out there, in any medium. In fact, there’s a hell of a lot more bad art than there is even alright art, let alone the really good stuff. But we don’t write off whole mediums as art forms because of a few dodgy bits.

I’m not going to go into excessive detail here about why video games are art, because it’s a) a huge topic, and b) has been covered pretty extensively elsewhere. Just Google it. What matters to me is why it’s important for developers and ideally even publishers to pursue games as art. The way an art form develops is through artists pushing boundaries, experimenting with form, and basically just trying to make some really good, interesting art. And I just don’t see that happening when all a developer sets out to do is make a really good toy.

Nintendo games are renowned for their excellence, and I don’t think that’s likely to change any time soon. But Nintendo are looking increasingly adrift in the modern gaming world, an old stalwart continuing to pursue fun at the absolute exclusion of any other qualities in a time where narrative, expression, and emotional involvement are finally working their way into mainstream games in a serious way.

Don't get me wrong - fun is great. Video games can be really, really fun. And perhaps a game can only be good if it is fun - though that’s another topic. But when fun is the only aim of a developer, that puts a pretty severe restriction on what can be achieved.

Nintendo have often been compared to Pixar. Both companies have rigorous quality control, make works that can be enjoyed by people of just about any age, and have a reputation for creativity. But Pixar have gotten to where they are by pushing boundaries, by trying new things and experimenting with their medium. They care about an awful lot more than simply making fun films. I only wish Nintendo were the same.

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About the Author

270 Points, 1 Comments, and 1 Articles.

Pop culture junkie and wannabe philosopher, occasionally trying to combine the two. I tweet (sporadically - I'm a bit rubbish at it really) as @dompreston

  1. Chris Perkins
    Date: September 13, 2013
    Author: Chris Perkins

    10180 Points, 126 Comments, and 176 Articles.

    I don’t care if they say it’s art or not as long as they put out games like Galaxy. Seems a bit sad to turn your back on a lifelong gaming love based on one interview!

    • dompreston
      Date: September 13, 2013
      Author: dompreston

      270 Points, 1 Comments, and 1 Articles.

      Oh, don’t worry – I probably can’t resist Nintendo games for long really. I won’t really stop playing them any time soon. It’s more that I wonder whether they’re really the future of the medium/industry any more.

  2. Date: September 13, 2013
    Author: Aiddon

    All games are toys. Doesn’t matter how cinematic, shiny, or even story-heavy you make them, they are TOYS. Nintendo saying they’re making toys is just them being honest and being truer to the medium than almost anybody. It shows a level of maturity that other game makers lack. Ironically, the ones claiming to make “art” are actually the ones who are most insecure about their profession, desperately lying to themselves in order to make themselves feel more important or interesting than they really are. And, also ironically, they also tend to make games that just aren’t as interesting. It almost seems that the designers and creators who aren’t ashamed of games being GAMES (being TOYS) are the ones who make stuff closer to art than anyone else.

  3. Date: September 13, 2013
    Author: Charles

    I’m sorry but you clearly did not understand what he was saying. Also it isn’t a recent comment. He said that months ago. Why is it just now an issue?

    Any way they don’t make art you hang on a wall. The make games that you play.

    “Iwata understands that Nintendo is, at its core, an entertainment company. Their goal is to make not art, but products that sell widely”

    I don’t see him saying they make toys in that.

    I will just dismiss this as a Nintendo hater article. You have all the qualifications. “I owned this, that and the other” So that justifies my spinning the facts.
    ” they don’t make anything new ” another BS statement only said by haters

    Let me explain what happened here. You were browsing Kotaku. Found an article you could spin and ran with it without ever bothering to actually read the article and see what it said.

  4. Date: September 13, 2013
    Author: Stealth

    This article makes no sense and does not get what he was saying

  5. Date: September 13, 2013
    Author: chica14

    1430 Points, 16 Comments, and 8 Articles.

    Regardless I will always be a fan of nintendo and their games. I have enjoyed just about every game they came out with. At least nintendo’s consoles focus on gaming and not try to make their consoles an all in one entertainment system. Unlike sony and microsoft,nintendo’s consoles are backwards compatible.

  6. Date: September 13, 2013
    Author: Juststop

    I see this is you first article, hopefully it will be your last.

    • Date: September 24, 2013
      Author: Piccalilli

      Because you disagree? Bit unnecessary…

  7. Bishop Sasarai
    Date: September 17, 2013
    Author: Bishop Sasarai

    300 Points, 4 Comments, and 1 Articles.

    The thing about Nintendo is that they have great first-party titles, but they need to step up the third-party support. I’d love to see my favorite JRPGs go to a Nintendo console; Ninty’s handhelds already have a good amount, but sometimes I like playing games on a TV.

    There’s nothing wrong with Nintendo wanting to make games that are just fun; however, I think they should let third-party developers have more of the “art” stuff. At the same time, I don’t entirely blame them (or developers in general) for their lack of success with the Wii U; gamers can be a strange lot. After all, how many people complain about the Wii U’s graphics, even though graphics alone do not make a game?

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