Among the plethora of adverts on TV this Christmas have been ones for Wii. Apart from its odd pronunciation (who paid the marketing gurus to come up with something otherwise used to describe urine?), for those not in the know it’s a computer concept which essentially turns your TV into a giant game screen, and has hand-held controls which take the place of bats, racquets, guns and so on, in the virtual world it sets before you.
The adverts show people – usually in front of a huge flat screen – playing tennis, having boxing matches and shooting aliens. Alongside the fairly obvious games is a social networking programme, which creates on-screen a garish, child-like virtual world populated by playful, doll-like characters, which the participants activate and cntrol like ‘real’ characters. These meet up, drink coffee, sit by the pool, even have parties.
My point in mentioning all of this – as if you hadn’t guessed – is to question whether it is a good thing. What Wii seems to deliver is a world where playing real games and engaging in real social interaction is replaced by the virtual equivalent - carried out from the comfort of your sofa.
The people depicted in the adverts are – of course - healthy, happy, and, above all, slim and attractive. Quite how they stay in tip-top, well balanced condition from the couch-potato comfort of their sofas is not revealed. I can see the benefits of this technology for people who genuinely find difficulty in doing such things – for example, because they have a disability which makes engaging in real sport prohibitively difficult. But for most, it strikes me as yet another force towards taking less exercise and substituting for developing real social skills.
More bizarrely, I do not understand the attraction of such virtual socialising. What is the point of a virtual party? Proponents might argue that it enables you to meet ‘friends’ from across the world in a way which would otherwise be impossible in real life. But these cannot be real relationships in any meaningful sense of the word. It seems to pander instead to a fear of forming deeper, more tangible but inevitably more complex relationships.
In the end, the real attraction of such technology – like most technology – is that it is convenient and easy. Virtual boxing doesn’t involve a trip to the gym, the need to take a shower, and is considerably less likely to result in a broken nose or cauliflower ear. On-line ‘friends’ are made with considerably less effort - and concomitantly less commitment- than the real thing.
But it could also be the first step towards a society like that depicted in Pixar’s charming cartoon Wall-E – where humans are reduced to immobile blobs floating on hover-beds, talking only into their screens, seduced every few minutes by the latest marketing fads. It’s enough to make this screen-bound writer go out jogging. In fact, I think I will.
'See you' next week...