In a pre-E3 presentation made through Nintendo Direct, the company announced it would be evolving the Wii’s avatar system into an enhanced social network called Miiverse. The demo showed a player being killed in a zombie game, presumably ZombiU, Ubisoft’s updated redesign of last year’s shooter Killer Freaks from Outerspace.
The player sends out a message asking for tips about how to get past a vexing zombie boss and one of his friends receives the plea as an update on his smartphone. The message also appears to go out to everyone who has been playing the game, as well as people directly in the player’s friend’s list, a kind of hybrid between a public message board and a private social network.
Players will also be able to use the Wii U’s camera to videochat with other people in their Miiverse friends list. When you power on the Wii U, the Miiverse will show all the Miis in a person’s friends list gathered around icons for whichever game they were most recently playing. The feature was called “Mii Wara Wara” which translates to the buzzing commotion created by crowds in a public space.
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata referred to Miiverse as a “networked communication system” that is essential to the Wii U experience. It is both the first thing a player sees when the machine is turned on and can be accessed at any point during gameplay without having to quit playing the game. Developers will also be able to incorporate Miiverse features directly into their games, as showed by a brief clip of a new Mario game. After a player died the screen filled with short messages from all the other players in his network who’d died at the same spot, and a brief glimpse of the Mario world map was filled with hints from players hovering over each level.
At a time when Facebook has reached new levels of depth and personalization, Miiverse seems curiously limited. And yet, this focus on game-centric communications that don’t directly hook into a profile of a person’s entire life have been a core value of Nintendo’s approach to online sociability. Social networks like Facebook want to be comprehensive but Nintendo’s version seems to always be tied to a privileged area of play that exists, by design, in a separate world from political updates and pictures of people’s lunches.
“Six years ago Wii introduced a new form of ‘together,'” Iwata said in the video. “If there is a way to describe Wii U in a similar sense, it’s this: together better.” What seems to make Nintendo’s version of togetherness “better” is its willful simplicity. Better is sometimes a kind of magical filter that translates the bustling noise of the agora into the safe and familiar chatter about dreamy play spaces and nothing more.