McLuhan’s tetrad could have predicted the direction gaming would take. Released in 2005, the Nintendo Wii, despite lacking many of the features it competitors had, went on to be the best selling game system for nearly a decade. The Wii did not have HD graphics or a multi-gigabyte hard drive. What did have was a revolutionary and innovative game interface. This interface brought back something that had been lacking in the gaming world—physical movement. The gaming medium in a big way retrieved something that had been thought obsolesced by earlier gaming systems.
The entire ark of the gaming market fits well into McLuhan’s tetrad. Beginning in the 1970’s, gaming companies were constantly trying to meet the consumer’s desire for better systems and better games. Early on, the gaming experience required going to communal gaming centers, but advancing technology allowed home systems to become popular. The quality of home systems quickly obsolesced the need to leave one’s house in order to experience the best gaming had to offer.
Home gaming technology has progressed steadily. From simple 8-bit graphics, in three decades it has reached full HD digital quality. With each new system, manufacturers attempted to make gaming seem more like real life. Improved A.I. on each system provided a greater feeling of playing an actual person. In a way, as A.I. progressed, with each new iteration it brought back the feeling of interacting with a living, breathing opponent.
As the gaming system was pushed to extremes, it became smaller and smaller. Portable systems that allowed gaming almost anywhere became popular, but did not replace the home systems. Like larger units, the portables have become faster, smarter and have HD screen quality.
Once the internet became stable enough for platform gaming, its role provided gaming with something that seemed impossible—communal multiplayer. Games were no longer limited to the number of controllers on a single unit. Now players in different houses, different countries, and different continents could play a single game. Not only did this bring back community feel that private gaming seemed to have destroyed, it globalized the community.
Up to this point, gaming had gone from communal, to private and to global. With the addition of the internet, gaming was now more like a game of pick-up baseball, any one could join in. The only physical movement electronic gaming required was the fingers pushing buttons on a controller, all other was needless or obsolete. Then in 2005, Nintendo unveiled the Wii. In what was probably the biggest retrieval of obsolescence, Nintendo had created a system with games requiring physical movement. At first, there were only a few games like tennis, pool, baseball and bowling. As time went on, more movement based games were added to the library and more equipment. Eventually a user could complete an entire workout routine with just the Wii.
The familiarity of movement to play games also opened up a new market. Older individuals, not as physical capable as they once were, could play on the Wii. This group had never used hand controllers for playing games, they had grown up playing physical, real-world games. The fact that these individuals were comfortable with new technology shows an unusual level of technological reversal. Digital bowling was now more like real-life bowling, but could being done at home and without bodily strain.
Seeing the success movement added to gaming, Sony and Microsoft both attempted similar products. Sony’s PlayStation Move failed to make much of a splash with consumers. Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect, however, did well. The Kinect provided yet another reversal of obsolescence, movement didn’t require a controller, a camera followed the user. This made interacting with the Kinect more natural, all one had to do was move and they were playing the game.
McLuhan’s tetrad is so well conceived that it can be applied to technology that was still in its infancy when he died. It’s easy to see how each new generation of gaming technology enhanced and obsolesced previous versions, but was not as easy to see the retrieval until physical interaction became prominent.