It became clear over the holidays that I am the Most Stodgy Fuddy-Duddy Member of My Family. I am the only one who does not have or itchily crave a Wii.
My young niece and nephew having an affinity for it (and owning one, which they brought with them to Christmas) is something of a given. But grandad wants one now, too, and so does my husband, and my daughter liked it, and my mom – my quilting, baking, farm-fetishizing mother – wants one, too!
I have no desire for one, and I even have a certain philosophical contention against it. But to make sure I wasn’t dismissing the thing out of hand, I played “tennis.” I swung my arm around in the air with the control and watched the little animated figure on the screen huff around the screen acting out my movements. I tried to stay open-minded.
But I remain unconvinced.
1) Objection #1: It’s a dumb name. Seriously, “Wii” was the best they could come up with? All I can think is “wee-wee” or “weee!” – I don’t like saying it out loud because I sound silly. “Want to play with my Wii?” sounds vaguely disgusting. Yuck.
2) Objection #2: The pretense of exercise. Whatever you call it, it’s still virtual reality, not actual reality, and I have problems with that. Yeah yeah, so you wave your arm around instead of just wiggling your thumb on a joystick – virtual tennis is still a long way off from real tennis. I’ve tried both, and the latter was harder, more physically challenging, and, ultimately, more rewarding when I hit something because it was actually me doing it, not some representative of me.
3) Objection #3: The pretense is not your own. So, I’ve read arguments for virtual reality that say that fictional texts are a virtual reality so any objection to a visual medium is just a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t agree. I don’t have a problem with using one’s imagination – with pretending to play tennis, or reading about a tennis player, or dreaming about tennis, or drawing pictures of tennis rackets swishing in the sunlight – all, you could argue, versions of reality that are invented, virtual, but not real-real. But the thing is, these all require my mind to supplement and interact and create.
If I read a book about tennis, even a highly descriptive one, I am still using my imagination to piece together the writer’s words. I am still looking at words, not images, and using those to create the virtual reality. I am a co-creator in the experience.
Playing a video game, on the other hand, my task is to manipulate objects imagined and completely created by the game designers. I can pick my avatar, but I don’t draw her, dress her, give her speech. I make her walk, jump, climb, shoot – but only in the ways proscribed by the designers. Playing a video game does not require creativity – it requires mental agility. Which is not a bad thing to practice – and I’m a fan of video games (though I’m not very good at them). But we can’t pretend they supplement the physical experience of actual doing or the verbal/textual experience of reading – the Wii would have us do both.
The Wii argues that it delivers the world to us safely developed and packaged, delivered to our living rooms, no fuss no muss, no stress no mess, that we can engage in adventures and challenges with all the benefits but none of the dangers or downsides of the real thing.
The problem is, without having to move the major muscles of our bodies or minds, the “benefits” of this kind of enjoyment and pretend are comparatively pale, diluted, weak.
But you wouldn’t necessarily know that if you never have the real thing…
4) Objection #4: That thing is so darn expensive!
Go get a real tennis racket and a ball, hop in the backyard, and play. (Or try badminton – it’s easier and more fun.)
Yeah, I know. It’s a losing battle. The Wii is “cool.” I and my books and my tennis racket are not. This little piggy goes weee weee weee all the way home…