During a brief check of my Twitter feed at work on Wednesday, I received a pleasant surprise – Nintendo would be making an announcement at 5 PM that evening (7 AM on the 18th over in Nintendo’s homeland) about a new product. They advertised this thing as a new way to play the Nintendo Switch, and stated the product was for the young and young-at-heart. Speculation ran wild about what the new kid-focused product would be, but I didn’t see anybody successfully predict what was ultimately unveiled: the Nintendo Labo, a cardboard craft project that can be used to play with the Switch in different configurations.
Now I had set my expectations somewhat low for this presentation – after all, as an adult I wasn’t really the target audience for whatever this project turned out to be. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed when the Labo was revealed. Crafts, construction, and all forms of putting small pieces together into a bigger thing do not come naturally to me, and so naturally since I’m not good at it I don’t enjoy doing it. My dismissal of the Labo was cemented by the fact that it obviously would not feature any real video games.
“Wow Ian, way to be totally judgmental about a product that is obviously not intended for you. Why don’t you go rain on the parade of all the happy children out there?”
My immediate negative response to the Labo only lasted a moment, but a moment was enough to get me reflecting a little bit. I started to unpack some of my thoughts and feelings about this weird cardboard
robot piano racecar gaming peripheral, and it took me back to another time recently where I had some pretty negative feelings about a game. The name of that game? Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. A game that I purchased on Day One, played to completion, and will probably buy the DLC for.
Mario + Rabbids sounded like a terrible idea for a lot of reasons. I hadn’t played a Rabbids game before but they reminded me of the Minions, obnoxious slapstick nonsense-spouting morons only appealing to those with the lowest brow sense of humor (and weirdly, elderly people on Facebook). I didn’t want these disgusting things running around in one of my favorite game worlds. And why the heck was Nintendo working on a roleplaying game that wasn’t a proper sequel to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door? Mario + Rabbids was everything I thought I didn’t want, and I hated the concept until E3 2017 revealed the man behind the curtain.
This is Davide Soliani, the creative mastermind behind Mario + Rabbids and an employee of Ubisoft. If you haven’t seen this picture before, this is him at E3 crying tears of joy because Shigeru Miyamoto, his childhood hero, is showing off the game that this man created and is talking about how amazing it is. This was a pretty touching moment for a lot of people, and for myself this was the “aha” moment where I realized that for every game I think is stupid, there is a human being who believes wholeheartedly in that project and who has poured themselves into its success.
Of course, seeing this guy proud of his project wasn’t enough to make me want to play the game. But on top of seeing the developer’s love for his creation, I also saw footage of Mario + Rabbids in action. And golly, did this game look cool. Mario was getting tossed into the air by his buddies to pounce on enemies’ heads, then rolling away behind cover to fire off a sleek Bullet Bill arm cannon that blasted his Rabbid opposition with laser beams. It took about five seconds of gameplay footage for me to go from “this game looks stupid” to “I’m gonna buy this the minute it comes out.” I stated online when the game was released that I have never been so eager to eat crow.
Now I don’t know if the creator of Nintendo Labo was watching the unveiling tonight and crying about how proud (s)he was of their creation. But I can guarantee that all of the folks who put their time in energy into this idea truly believe that it is a worthwhile project. They didn’t create this just to make money, or because they were bored at the office. They genuinely felt this would be fun for a lot of people, specifically for the kids who might revel at the opportunity to use their Nintendo Switch in some really clever ways.
There was one particular part of my negative response that I wanted to analyze on a deeper level: the idea that the games compatible with the Nintendo Labo aren’t “real games.” I’ve seen concepts for gaming peripherals plenty of times, and most of the times they are ideas that don’t impress me. I never wanted a Kinect, I wasn’t into the idea of VR – the Nintendo Labo feels similar to those things for me. It’s a gimmick, a novelty, some kind of clever thing where the focus is all on the action of playing with the device rather than experiencing the Traditional Video Game Experience (TM).
It’s the same kind of generally negative feeling I have towards mobile games. These short, contained experiences with simple mechanics and little narrative depth have very little appeal for me. And I certainly would never pay money just to unlock a few more levels or get some free passes when my puzzle gets particularly challenging. Yes, by a purely technical definition these things are “video games,” but not real games. A true gamer would never waste their time on something like that, and the people who just play Candy Crush on their smartphone don’t earn the right to identify as gamers at all.
While I’ve exaggerated my above statements for the sake of making a point, I honestly think a lot of us traditional console gamers can get into this mindset if we’re not careful. We see our favorite developers developing these crazy peripherals or trying to appeal to the mobile market and say “but what about our games?” It’s a sort of entitlement, a strange classism built only on the fact that our video games are played on machines that don’t also make phone calls. And, of course, egged on a little bit by all the doomsday articles that say console gaming will disappear because the mobile market is where the money’s at.
Here’s the thing. Candy Crush is a video game. So is Angry Birds. So is that weird Strawberry Shortcake Temple Run spinoff that my son likes to play on my grandmother’s Kindle for some reason. And whatever “gimmicky, narratively shallow, artistically-lacking” games come out for the Nintendo Labo will also still be video games. And that’s okay. Not every movie has to be Citizen Cane. Not every painting has to be Starry Night. And not every video game has to be Journey or Breath of the Wild or HZD or NieR or whatever else. Just because I wouldn’t like a specific video game doesn’t mean that the product doesn’t deserve to exist so that other people can enjoy it.
I ultimately decided to check my negative feelings about the Labo and to try and appreciate the product for what it is. This is a really engaging form of gameplay for kids. If my son were to want this product, would I say no just because I personally am not interested? My sister is six years in age, very smart, very artistic, and she’s just starting to get a little interested in video games herself. This sort of thing might be right up her alley, and I can imagine how fun it would be to take her make-believe to the next level by giving her a screen that makes her ideas come to life.
If you, like me, have a negative perception of gaming peripherals or specific video games because they don’t appeal to you, I encourage you to consider if it is productive to express those negative feelings out into the world. At the very least, think about a healthier way to express those feelings. After watching the presentation, I initially tweeted out a snarky joke with the implication that the Labo isn’t an exciting product or something worth paying attention to. I decided to delete that tweet simply because it came from a mean-spirited place. Throwing out negative thoughts – even in the guise of a joke, even when not worded in a hateful way – isn’t productive and it doesn’t show any respect to the real human people who created this product or to those who want to experience it.
So what do you think about all of this, adventurers? Are you excited for the Nintendo Labo? Are you, like me, probably not gonna pick it up? Have you struggled with managing your negative responses to games and devices that don’t appeal to you? What do you use to help you be respectful to those who might be excited about the product? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading, adventurers!