How the Mii avatar changes the face of gaming

This blog entry could be titled Why the Nintendo Mii is a success or How Nintendo plans to rule the world.

Recently, we wrote a blog entry about a book called “Alter Ego” that showed pictures of people and their avatars. Interesting stuff for sociologists and shrinks and the nerds and geeks who write for QJ. If they’re going to make a book about that, then we’re going to make a blog entry about a phenomenon that is just as newsworthy. We’ll talk about how the Wii really is changing the reality of gaming and the role of the Mii in this trend.

Like I said in a previous article, avatars are the forms that the gods or divine beings take when the descend to Earth. Similarly, avatars are the forms we take when we go into the virtual world. Nothing new there. We’ve been making icons of ourselves and calling them “avatars” ever since Ultima IV.

First, we’ll look at some forms that avatars can take (this is a simplified list – we’re sure you can nitpick this list some more). Take notes. There might be a quiz later. And isn’t Aang just the coolest?

Then we’ll talk a bit about how avatars are different when it comes the Wii and the Mii – even though Reggie Fils-Aime (president of Nintendo of America) talked at length about the relationship between avatars in Second Life and the Wii.

Then we’ll talk about how Nintendo is engineering a small (but growing) cultural revolution – with the help of the avatar.

Here’s a preview:

The Wii, with the help of the Mii, is on the scale of a small but growing cultural fad. And it’s been interesting to watch:

  • For example, just like Sims 2 and Second Life, “normal” non-gaming people have actually heard about the Wii. It gets a lot of air time on TV and a lot of online exposure over at the BBC and other “serious news” sites.

  • And notice all the Mii avatars popping up on MySpace and YouTube, like CrashSpyro123’s Mii Parade above (we lose count of how many Mii vids have been posted on YouTube). We know people who spend entire Sundays just making Mii avatars. (Speaking of Sundays, has anybody seen the Jesus avatar yet?)

The gods used avatars as their messengers. It’s the same thing with the Mii. From enjoying the Miis in Wii Sports and Wii Play, it’s only a short leap to trying out Cooking Mama and Rayman Raving Rabbids. And one day, non-gamers might actually understand what’s the big deal about Zelda and Metroid. And that’s a kind of nirvana our avatars are working for.

Read the Full Article after the jump – that’s right after you click on the “Full Article” link below.

This blog entry could be titled Why the Nintendo Mii is a success or How Nintendo plans to rule the world.

First, some introductory stuff.

Recently, we wrote a blog entry about a book called “Alter Ego” that showed pictures of people and their avatars. Interesting stuff for sociologists and shrinks and the nerds and geeks who write for QJ. If they’re going to make a book about that, then we’re going to make a blog entry about a phenomenon that is just as newsworthy. We’ll talk about how the Wii really is changing the reality of gaming and the role of the Mii in this trend.

Like I said in a previous article, avatars are the forms that the gods or divine beings take when the descend to Earth. Similarly, avatars are the forms we take when we go into the virtual world. Nothing new there. We’ve been making icons of ourselves and calling them “avatars” ever since Ultima IV.

First, let’s look at some forms that avatars can take (this is a simplified list – we’re sure you can nitpick this list some more). Take notes. There might be a quiz later. And isn’t Aang just the coolest?

Avatar - cartoon on Nick - play the game on Wii

  1. An image (JPG or GIF) icon, usually around 120 pixels by 120 pixels in size, but some are bigger. Sometimes there’s text with it (your name, data, etc.). Examples include forum avatars, icons used in some MUDs and MOOs and MUCKs and MUSHs (multi-user text-based simulations – e.g., roleplaying), blog avatars, the little flag you use in NationStates, and even, if you stretch the definition, the Xbox Gamertag. As you can see, some examples of this kind of avatar have a roleplayed or “pretend” extension of yourself.
  2. An actual moving character that belongs in a game, like your character in World of Warcraft or some sci-fi or fantasy MMO or MMORPG on PC or on a game console (like Xbox 360’s Phantasy Star Universe). This has roleplaying in the context of the MMO (I *am* a Draenei! I *am* a Stormtrooper for the Empire! I *am* a fighter for Zion against the Merovingians!).
  3. An actual moving character that belongs in a game that with the option to look like you – although you can let your imagination run free. An example is Sims 2. You can do away with the wall that separates reality and gaming (if you want). For example, when we play Sims, our characters are supposed to be us, and the people we lock in the burning kitchen until they die are supposed to be the people we hate (so we’re insane – but we’ll take over the world right after we take over QJ).
  4. Then there’s Second Life. Second Life hit 1 million residents back in October – and these residents continue to make money, own land, hold jobs, and continue making their metaverse (some QJ bloggers are there too – but we’re keeping those second lives secret). For many, their avatars really are extensions of themselves. For some, it’s just for fun, but others really put themselves into the game.

Next, some introductory stuff about the Mii. Even though Reggie Fils-Aime (president of Nintendo of America) talked at length about the relationship between Second Life and the Wii, there are several ways that avatars are different when it comes the Wii and the Mii.

  • Population. Second Life has over a million residents. But there’s this growing expectation that Nintendo will ship a total of 4 million Wiis by the end of the year. If the trend continues, there will soon be more Mii avatars than there are bad remakes of Numa Numa – which is ironic because a lot of Mii avatars are remakes, like of Marcus Fenix.
  • It’s like love: exciting and new. Casual and non-hardcore gamers, newbies and noobzes, and even their clumsy relatives and tottering grandparents in need of hip replacements have all made Mii avatars. Nintendo wants everybody to buy a Wii – and this means that you’re going to have people (who have never heard of avatars before) suddenly spending hours making their own Mii avatars. This is a tad bit different from Sims 2 and Second Life because of the wave after wave of marketing effort directed towards getting non-gamers to come in and try gaming.
  • Your Mii can be everywhere. Your avatar doesn’t have to stay in one game: games where your Mii can go include Wii Sports, WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Wii Play, and The Sims Wii. You can take your Miis with you in your Wiimote. You can show up on a Mii Parade. You can show up as spectators in other people’s games. You can share your Wii code with other Wii owners so other Miis can visit you and you can visit them. There are online communities for more Mii fun. And with WiiConnect24 (making it possible to get content even if your Wii is off) we’re waiting for the day that it becomes very easy for friends to visit us and leave notes (even when we’re away) – sort of like the email system in Animal Crossing.
  • A new and evolving system. One nice thing about something when it’s new: it gets a lot of support and promises lots of changes and improvements in the future.

Now we can move on to the points we want to make:

Nintendo is engineering a small (but growing) cultural revolution – with the help of the avatar.

The gods used avatars to become closer to the Earth. Nintendo’s Miis are doing the same thing. Nintendo will soon have millions of people using Mii avatars – and for many of them it will be the first time they’ve tried video games or any of that “compooterized nonsense from the devil.” In other words, Nintendo is engineering an avatar revolution: we use our avatars to become closer to each other, but more importantly for Nintendo’s future and the future of gaming, the Mii is bringing people (and their money and the media’s attention) to gaming and the Wii.

The Wii – with the help of the Mii – is making gaming more approachable and easier to get into. At the same time, it’s making gaming more addictive to non-gamers by inserting the Mii into their real lives. This is an important point – look at this carefully. The Mii, an aspect of Nintendo and Wii gaming, causes a connection between people we know in our real lives and their Mii avatars that we make, swap, visit, and see when we play.

Those sneaky Nintendo execs and their clever plans – they realized the best way to infiltrate a non-gaming household is by brainwashing the moms. You tell them things like “you can play Wii Sports with a collection of Miis of your loved ones” and “you can punch out that hussy who never returned your sugar bowl by making a Mii of her in Wii Sports Boxing.

Those Nintendo execs also put in WiFi connectivity and Mii sharing. That’s good because by varying the different ways that people can use their Miis and by varying the ways that people can experience the Wii, you give the impression that there are so many ways to have fun. You increase interaction with the product. You increase attraction for the console. You make game addicts out of non-gamers. And all you did was tell them that they can carry their Miis with them in their controllers.

The Wii, with the help of the Mii, is on the scale of a small but growing cultural fad. And it’s been interesting to watch:

  • For example, just like Sims 2 and Second Life, “normal” non-gaming people have actually heard about the Wii. It gets a lot of air time on TV and a lot of online exposure over at the BBC and other “serious news” sites.

  • And notice all the Mii avatars popping up on MySpace and YouTube, like CrashSpyro123’s Mii Parade above (we lose count of how many Mii vids have been posted on YouTube). We know people who spend entire Sundays just making Mii avatars. (Speaking of Sundays, has anybody seen the Jesus avatar yet?)

To top it all off, there’s a fun factor to it – that factor that makes you want to talk about it, that factor that makes the press want to talk about it. Here’s just one facet of this fun factor: the celebrity Miis. Yes, celebrities are making their own Miis and regular folks are making Miis of celebrities – and there are Mii celebrity look-alike competitions where prizes are given online to the Mii that looks the most like a celebrity.

Finally, there’s the social acceptability factor. It’s all so fun and cute and nonviolent and harmless. It gets the approval of society, it gets a positive reaction from friends, and pretty soon even the most jaded of gaming newbies are swapping Miis, marrying their Miis, swapping virtual stuff, trading virtual notes, and loving Nintendo as much as long-time gamers do.

In other words, aren’t you just happy that you can talk to your mom about gaming and she actually understands? Because hey, it turns out she spent the afternoon making Miis of your family and all your aunts and uncles too.

The gods used avatars as their messengers. It’s the same thing with the Mii. From enjoying the Miis in Wii Sports and Wii Play, it’s only a short leap to trying out Cooking Mama and Rayman Raving Rabbids. And one day, non-gamers might actually understand what’s the big deal about Zelda and Metroid. And that’s a kind of nirvana our avatars are working for.

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