By Amanda Rossenrode
Let me start of by saying that I have been a fan of Nintendo and its properties since my grubby little hands could cheat at Duck Hunt. My sister and I have nearly killed each other several times over the possession of a hand-me-down Gameboy and learned the valuable lesson that, yes, Tetris still works after dropping the cartridge in the pool. I currently own both a Wii and a 3DS, which both have several games with a high replay value (mostly just Mario).
I was interested in the announcement of the Nintendo Switch, because it means they’re probably going to stop making games for my DS and force me to purchase another system over the next two years, like the bastards they are. To my detriment, I jones for the new Mario and Zelda games and can’t help myself. After I watched the promo for the system, it occurred to me that the advertising team behind the new console has either never met real people, or personifies the last person you want crashing your party.
We open in the dark living room in an upper-middle class home to an attractive man in his thirties, playing what is clearly his twelfth hour of video games as his large breed dog paces around the house. He is so immersed in the game that he hasn’t realized that the dawn is closely approaching. On the surface, this seems fine. I think most people can admit that at some point in their lives, they have gotten so into a game that they played for a better part of the night. Then, those people will recall that was when they were younger, had less responsibility. Didn’t have a nine to five and a spouse who may be concerned if they stayed up all night playing video games. So what is going on in this gentleman’s life that affords him a single family home and brand new furnishings but he can play Nintendo until dawn? This is not the type of home that even a successful bachelor would purchase. This is a place with a HOA and a sunporch. Is he married? Does he have kids? Does his wife care that he spends his nights in an armchair smashing goblins rather than with her? Maybe she doesn’t. It's likely that he lost his job and sunk into a deep depression, the mortgage is overdue, and videogames are his only escape. She left and took the kids to her sister’s, allowing him to game to his heart’s content without interruption. Notice how it’s four in the morning and he’s not wearing headphones? Either he’s alone in that mini-mansion or they edited out the part where some pajama-clad family member stomped down the stairs and screamed at him to turn that noise down.
Remembering his one true friend, he manages to take the dog out at dawn. Does he use this time to reflect on his life and watch a glorious sunrise, Mother Nature’s daily gift to man, rarely beheld with our modern tendency to hit the snooze button? Does he toss a ball to his beloved pooch? Hell no! He brings that game to a bench, ignoring every living particle around him just long enough for the neglected dog to pee. If Sarah MacLauchlan had been playing in the background, it would have been an ad for the ASPCA.
Our next vignette is a young man using the mobile option for much less depressing reasons: waiting. I have a 3DS and always have it on hand when faced with the DMV or getting an oil change. The thing with the 3DS is that they make a couple specific categories of games: ones that you can play on a commute, like Professor Layton and ones that are fun and frustrating, like Donkey Kong Country Returns. If you play Donkey Kong in the waiting room of the dentist’s office, you will look like you have Tourette’s and mothers will gather their children and demand you to watch the language. The gentleman in the promo is obviously playing Skyrim, a game in the latter category. A game filled with placid lulls and sudden battles. With freaking dragons.
First he spots a pretty young woman and slides creepily next to her, craning to see her screen and oafishly displays his own. Rather than giving this stranger a worried look and pretending her plane is boarding, she seems enthusiastic, which is not a real world situation. On the plane, the video shows you all the cool features of the mobile option, and while the man in question does have the courtesy to wear headphones, unlike the aforementioned family annihilator discussed before, he is playing with a tiny little controller on a very crowded plane next to two sleeping strangers. Have you ever tried to take a nap next to someone who is playing a video game? I have. Even with head phones, the player will jerk and make sudden movements, sway with the camera angles and release torrents of foul language while slamming the controller into his knees. Imagine a red-eye flight next to that jerk. How long until that sleeping businessman next to him just slaps that Nintendo into the aisle and dares the guy to pick it up before they get to Denver?
A reoccurring theme in the promo is the obsessive inability to put the game down to do so much as to acknowledge loved ones or respect personal space. It gets more troubling when we get to the late night basketball game being played under a bridge, as one does. Now, the early marketing of the original Wii was that many of the games were active ones that encouraged the whole family to get up and move, presumably targeted at parents that believed their children were slowly morphing in Cheetos. As someone who owns a Wii knows, those games suck. They’re fun for exactly one day, and then you just play Mario after that. The Switch seems to take this into consideration, but goes a bit overboard by suggesting that you should abandon the physical activity you already are participating in to play a digital version of it. These guys are engaged in basketball, and some potato-head says, “Hey guys! Stop playing basketball so we can all hunch in front of this tiny screen and play basketball with these ridiculously tiny controllers. Under a damn bridge at midnight. I know, we all said we wanted to get out more and exercise, but look how cool the tiny controllers are! Can you imagine the hand cramps we’re going to get before some murderous bridge dweller sneaks up and mugs us for this thing? It sells for $350 on the street! No Todd, I will not keep my voice down!”
Our fourth character is Nintendo’s second affirmation that, yes, girls like games too. She too, is so obsessed with the game, that when she sees her friend out the window at a rooftop gathering, impatiently waving at her to join the festivities, she is torn. Like our lonely friend in the echoing McMansion, her implied backstory is also dark. Why is she so reluctant to join her friends at an elaborate party that must have taken time and money and permission from the landlord to execute? It seems like this isn’t the first time she has done this. It seems like her friends are genuinely worried about her antisocial tendencies and her startlingly cheerful denial of them. I imagine there was a volley of text messages on her phone.
Jill, it’s really messed up if you don’t go. This is their engagement party and it’s your sister.
Yeah, but I just love my Nintendo Switch! I can’t get enough of it!
Seriously Jill, people remember stuff like this. You can’t skip their engagement party to play Animal’s Crossing or whatever.
Maybe I could bring it with me and we could all play!
No Jill, that would be really messed up. Don’t, under any circumstance, do that.
So, of course she decides to bring the game and corner her friends into playing the game, completely distracting the elaborate party that some loved one had planned. Now, the crudités and karaoke machine are being ignored as half the party crouches over this game. Conversation falters and ceases, as half the party is either engrossed or annoyed by this distraction. The host is on the verge of tears, remembering the time spent lugging tables and chairs up to the roof, marinating chicken skewers and picking a signature cocktail.
What seems to be another running theme is the subjective depiction of the positive reaction expressed by the people surrounding the main character in each scene. Like the chick at the airport, I don’t think people at this party would be so enthusiastic of this self-involved act. If you had a party and decided there would be a Smash Brothers or Dance Dance portion of it, sure. But this is more akin to someone forcing you to watch a “funny” video on their phone. You never want to. You tell them you’ll look it up later, but they say no, you have to see it now and then spend five minutes searching for it on their phone. You watch it--it's never as funny as they built it up to be, they know it too, so now you both have to laugh with burlesque enthusiasm to cut the awkward tension. Then you have to one-up them with a “funnier” video, because this is a newly invented level of hell. That’s what Jill is doing. Don’t be Jill.
The finale is groups of professional gamers using this as a training tool. Which is probably the sanest suggested use of the features of this device. The teams enter the arena to the screaming adulation of fans, suggesting that if you become so addicted to this system that it impairs your life and destroys your family, leaving you blind and deaf to the most basic societal rules, you too will gain glory.
Coming March 2017.