One our regular events in TAG is a game studies book club organized by Mia Consalvo. This past semester we Codename Revolution, which was published in 2012 by The MIT Press as part of their ongoing “platform studies” series. According to the official series website, “Platform Studies investigates the relationships between the hardware and software design of computing systems and the creative works produced on those systems,” and this book attempts such an analysis of the Nintendo Wii. I say “attempts” here because the book never achieves the depth of insight one would expect of a volume of this length.
The book can loosely be divided into three sections, though the authors themselves do not do so. The first two chapters set the stage for the Wii by describing how it came to be and Nintendo’s goals for the console. These chapters are characterized by misinformation and a surprising lack of attention to detail. For example, on page 29 they write that the Wii’s disc drive slot “glows blue when the console is on,” which is simply not true; it only glows blue during certain operations. Later, on page 40 they quote designer Jason Vandenberghe expressing his belief that an analogue stick is necessary to provide the level of precise control needed in first-person shooters. However, the authors somehow interpret “stick” as referring to the Wii remote, and then offer an analysis based on that misinterpretation. They then move into a discussion of the Wii’s power “efficiency,” even though they are not discussing efficiency but absolute power consumption. On page 48 they write that “a dual- or quad-core CPU featuring 3.2 GHz cores effectively has 6.4 or 12.8 GHz speed, respectively.” In the context of their analysis this statement comes across as meaning that such a CPU performs operations at these speeds, which is not true. One might argue that the total computational power of such a CPU is 6.4 GHz or 12.8 GHz, but in practice nobody aggregates these values because they make it appear as though the CPU is operating that fast, when it is not.
Further, throughout these chapters the authors equate motion controls to “casual gamers” and new audiences, a strange, often incorrect assumption (see the success of Big Fish Games and PopCap) that oddly goes unchallenged throughout the book. There are also numerous instances where the authors assign intentions to Nintendo without citing any sources.
The next three chapters offer an exhaustive look at the Wii’s technical details, including those of the Wii Remote and Balance Board. The emphasis in these chapters is on detail, and while detail abounds, there is no critical analysis, no “studies” of the “platform,” to be found. The detail is certainly impressive, but as a reader I was constantly wondering, “Why does this information matter?”
The book does end somewhat better than it began. Chapter 6 addresses how the Wii functions as a social platform, but never offers-up any key insights. I did appreciate the discussion of “open” versus “closed” platforms and the authors’ observation that the Wii complicates these notions: it is theoretically closed, but openly transmits data wirelessly. However, this is not insight but mere observation.
Ultimately I had the impression that the book was a rushed side project for both authors, who wanted to be the first to apply platform studies methods to the Nintendo Wii. This belief comes not only from the lack of attention to detail and misinformation, but a meandering writing style prone to repetition that leaves the reader wondering, “Why are they telling me this (again)?” I further feel that the book could have been much better had more time been spent on it. Not only would this have caught some of the errors I discussed above, but given the authors more time to develop their ideas. The material in chapter 6 approaches an interesting argument, and with more development could have been the focus of a much better book.
As it stands the book fails at applying platform studies to any meaningful degree, and there is nothing revelatory to be found here.
Jones, Steven E. and Thiruvathukal, George K. Codename Revolution: The Nintendo Wii Platform. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012.