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December 19, 2006

The People vs. Nintendo Wii

Filed under Gadgets

I read a story on Slashdot today about a class action lawsuit against Nintendo concerning Wiimote straps breaking.

I read several of the comments and it mirrored the reaction I got from people around the office and my previous posting on the Wii.

Many of the comments on Slashdot found fault with the Wii users. A common theme was along the lines, "If you are dumb enough to let go of the remote, then you get what you deserve" or "Don't blame Nintendo for you being an idiot."

The Wii is becoming infamous for damage caused by its unique input device, the Wiimote. There are web sites dedicated to chronicling damage from Wii usage. The two most popular are Wiidamage and Wii Have a Problem.

So who is to blame for damage caused by the Wii? The user? Nintendo?

I think this a unique issue as is not as clear cut as you might expect.

If 100% of Wii users have an accident of some sort, it is clearly Nintendo's responsibility to fix a design problem with the Wii. I'd say if 10% of users are having problems, then it still a Nintendo problem. At what percentage does the responsibility swing to the Wii user? I don't know.

It is certainly in Nintendo's best interest for the the perception of the Wii to be a family friendly gaming device. That said, I would expect Nintendo to do everything it can to minimize these incidents.

Nintendo's safety instructions state at least four times not to let go of the remote. Is that enough? Nintendo didn't think so, so they included a safety strap. Many of the problems with the Wii involve the safety strap breaking, and Nintendo last week announced a recall on all Wiimotes.

I seriously doubt this is the last lawsuit and safety fix we can expect for the Wii.

Many people I've talked to (mostly non-Wii users) think this is a non-issue, except, surprisingly enough, a Wii-fanboy I know. It is a non-issue for them because they are responsible unlike the idiots that are having problems.

This is an issue and Nintendo has a responsibility to fix it. Let me try to illustrate an extreme case. First, imagine you are a parent and you bought your kids a Wii. Imagine what you would do to setup an environment where your kids and furniture would be safe. Move all the furniture out of the gaming area? Teach your kids to always put on the wrist strap? Tell your kids to never let go of the remote while playing? Make sure your kids stay aware of the surroundings? All good ideas.

Now let's pretend there is a game for the Wii called "Tornado." The object of Tornado is to place a Wiimote in each hand and with your arms outstretched spin as fast as you can. The winner is the person that can spin at a fast rate for the longest period of time.

Dumb game, I know. Will a game like this exist? I doubt it. Could a game like this exist on the Wii? Absolutely. This is a game that is just waiting for an accident to occur with a dizzy, out of control kid swinging his arms...either a kid is going to hit another kid in the face or put an arm through a window or a TV set. There is not much you can do to keep your kids safe while playing Tornado other than not playing.

Who is responsible for accidents from playing Tornado. In this case, I fault the software developer. A game like this should never be released.

I believe there is more Nintendo can do to make the Wii a safer gaming experience.

If you look at most of the Wii problems, they are specific to one game: Wii Sports, the pack-in game for Wii. People are launching their remotes when bowling, serving a tennis ball, driving a golf ball, or hitting a homerun. I believe Nintendo can reduce the likelihood of accidents by changing how their games accept input from the Wiimote.

How? From my experimentation with Wii Sports Bowling, it doesn't appear that the game treats a motion of casually rolling a ball any differently than flinging the ball as hard as you can. Actually, just like most guys in real bowling, you *want* to throw the ball as hard as you can to get a strike. The game could be modified to consider "extreme" motions as "out of control" and send the ball down the gutter. In other words, penalize extreme motions, reward safe motions.

Another idea...Nintendo could setup a safe gaming area in front of the TV/Wii during calibration/setup. If you move out of the safe gaming area, the game pauses with a warning that you must play from the safe area until you return.

I am a software developer by trade, and this is a new world for me. I've *never* had to worry about my software causing physical injuries. I think the Wiimote is a really cool new input device, but with it comes new responsibilities that software developers have rarely thought about. I give Nintendo credit for being a trailblazer...I'll be interested to see how they deal with this situation.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 19, 2006 11:39 PM.

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