During the Wii U re-unveiling on June 3, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata revealed one of his sources of inspiration. He held up Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, a book by M.I.T. professor Sherry Turkle.
One of the concerns Turkle raises in her book is that we're missing out on the intimate human interactions that we had before cell phones, tablets and the Internet existed. Ya know, instead of texting, we actually had to talk on the phone and hold a conversation. Or instead of a tweet/Facebook post, we had to actively keep our friends and family up-to-date about our daily lives.
People are gathered together with friends and family but not truly connected, paying more attention to separate devices. New technology has made our lives easier and more efficient, but we have to wonder what this will mean for the nature of human relationships moving forward. One of the challenges we set for ourselves (when developing Wii U) was something that helped unite people rather than divide them, whether in the same room or great distances apart.
As Iwata notes, the Wii U philosophy hopes to reconnect people at that more intimate level. If you're going to be spending time in front of the television, you may as well spend it enjoying media, enjoying games, and experiencing life together. The Wii U philosophy is not about playing with some stranger on the other side of the world; someone you have no emotional investment in, who may as well be a computer program.
While Nintendo may never come out and say it directly, traditional online will never be a priority for its Wii U releases. Fearful of the core gamer reaction, they'll continue to offer excuses for why it's not feasible, like "technical limitations," "conflicts with designer's vision," and "we're focused on making a great single player and cooperative experience."
This strategy is well-intentioned. I admire their effort. They honestly want to improve the depth and value of interactions with our family and friends. But is such a goal attainable? I look around and see grandmothers wielding iPhones. One company with an apple logo transformed an entire culture. Does a gaming company have what it takes to lead us down another path? Or will the momentum of being alone together prove too much for Nintendo to overcome? We'll see in the years ahead. In the meantime, expect to hear more veiled reasons for why traditional online won't work in Nintendo games. Fortunately we already know the real answer thanks to Iwata's book of the month club: because they don't really want it to.