North Wind And Sun

Fun, Winning, and Six-Year Olds – On Mario Kart Wii and The Wii Wheel

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Mario Kart Wii, released last month, is bundled with the “Wii Wheel,” a white plastic steering wheel peripheral created with the intent to mimic the sensations of the driving experience. Nintendo claims that the wheel “immerses players in to the circuit of their choice,” offering “even the novice player a fighting chance.” Seasoned gamers, predictably, were less than enthused about the Wheel’s existence. Bulent Yusuf, blogger writer for the blog WiiWii said:

Though Nintendo valiantly tried to convince us otherwise, it’s a silly gimmick that detracts from the quality of the game. Fortunately, you can play using the standard Wiimote and Nunchuk, or you can bust out the GameCube pad and be proper old school.

Other bloggers lauded the wheel, citing personal stories of non-mothers and father’s picking up and enjoying the wheel as evidence of the success of Nintendo’s “Expanded audiences” strategy.

I decided to do a bit of my own research into the merits of Nintendo lucrative new business model. Though only possessing a tangential interest in the field of developmental psychology, I decided to take a look at Mario Kart Wii from my six-year old sister’s Lindsey’s vantage. Nothing fancy, just a few questions and observations.

The Wii Wheel

Initially, I was particularly interested in the intuitiveness of the game itself, and how the features of the Wii Wheel lend themselves to that quality. Lindsey, after a bit of playing with the wheel, said that it was better than both the Wii remote alone , as well as the standard Gamecube pad.

Game Mechanics

Lindsey realized that it was vital to her success that she remain on the road, noting that when she drove on the grass, “you go slower.” Mushrooms, in her words, “means I have to go faster.” She quickly agreed that driving faster was better than driving slower. “That’s what I’m trying to do, drive faster,” she said, as her driver was crushed by an oncoming delivery truck, “but things keep getting in the way.”

Lindsey very quickly picked up the nuances of acceleration, turning, and item usage. She realized that turning the wheel right made her driver turn right, and that turning for too long made her character veer off the road and run headlong into walls and off cliffs.

Items

On the subject of items, Lindsey had a very interesting outlook. Though she agreed that “the guy with the sharp things on his back” as well as the “monkey” were “bad guys,” she said that the characters that she was racing against were her friends. When I asked her why, then, did she hit them with shells and throw lighting at them, Lindsey, replied, “Because they hit me.”

Winning

Her opinions on winning were a bit more straightforward. When she first began playing, she regularly placed in last place, which did not earn her any points. Either in reaction to her driver’s disappointed losing animation, or her last place spot, Lindsey said things along the lines of “oh man – I lost” or “I lost again” at the end of each race. The next day, when she began placing a bit higher in the rankings – sixth through ninth – she said the same things, which gave me the impression that she equated “losing” with anything other than first place.

After another hour or so, I noticed that Lindsey was doing incredibly well on some of the easier stages, now placing first and second on courses where she had previously placed last. This newfound success was greeted with halfhearted cries of “I win” and “I didn’t lose this time.” This obviously pointed to notion that she had quickly learned from her mistakes and was making attempts to fix them. Instead of frantically rotating the controller from side to side as she drove on straight roads, she kept her wheel straight, only turning when approaching curves, attempting to get items, or avoiding hazards.

Fun & Winning

Here is our exchange on the subjects of fun and winning.

Me: Is this game fun?
Lindsey: Yes.
Me: Would you play it if it wasnt fun?
Lindsey: No.
Me: Is winning fun?
Lindsey: Yes.
Me: Would you play this game if you didn’t win?
Lindsey: No.
Me: So you wouldn’t keep playing until you got good enough to win?
Lindsey: No.
Me: Would you play something else?
Lindsey: Yes.
Me: Something that you could win or something fun?
Lindsey: Both.
Me: So, winning is fun?
Lindsey: Yes.

It’s all about the fun, stupid

Though I am not sure how much my questions led her to answer in the way she did, I found it interesting how universal our most basic desires to play video games are. We play video games because they are fun. Once they cease being fun, due to difficulty spikes or lack of novelty, we cease to enjoy playing them, causing them to lose their purpose. Lindsey did not seem to find the prospects of her eventual success as reason enough to continue playing. For older gamers, on the other hand the notion of eventual success is usually adequate reason to continue playing. Of course, I wonder if her desire to keep playing would have been any different if she were the one who paid fifty dollars for the game in the first place.

EDIT: Halfway through writing this post, I recalled a video of Kotaku editor Brian Crecente’s six year-old son Tristan impressions of the Wii Wheel. Tristian, being the son of a video game journalist, seems to have been raised on video games, having experience using both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 controllers. Lindsey, on the other hand, has had very little experience with video games aside from a number of extended stints with a Nintendo DS and New Super Mario Brothers. It’s not terribly relevant to the post but I thought it was worth noting.

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