Ask a Gamer 1: A console primer

Posted on October 28, 2014

A Facebook friend of my asked a question I thought I could help with, so this is the first in a series of posts designed to help real parents with the real questions facing them in their family’s gaming lives.

I need some advice!! We have an X-box; it’s pretty much just used for Skylanders these days. [Daughter] is asking for a Wii (she doesn’t know what type/version) or a DS. I think she likes the idea with the Wii that you get to move around & ‘physically’ play. I have no idea really what the Wii is or what the benefits might be in comparison to the X-box. Also, how would a DS be terribly different from playing games on the IPod/IPad? And then there’s the Wii U!?? Eek! — feeling confused.

‘Xbox’ actually refers to three console devices: the original Xbox (first released 2001); Xbox 360 (2005) and the Xbox One (2014). This is your basic go-to console: produced by Microsoft and with a strong following in Western countries (especially the US), the Xbox has led the way in home gaming experiences, including split screen (or couch-cooperative) gaming and, increasingly, online gaming. Several Xboxes can be hooked up into a “System Link” configuration to have several physically-present players playing in the same game. It has the standard controller that everyone knows and loves, and (apart from some games that are exclusive to one or the other) is quite similar to the Playstation series of consoles, produced by Sony and with a much stronger following in Japan.

The Xbox 360 with its wireless controller: a bastion of core gaming

The Xbox 360 with its wireless controller: a bastion of core gaming

In 2006 Nintendo broke the tradition of their NES and Nintendo 64 consoles and created a completely new way to game. The Wii uses what is called ‘motion control’, meaning that to control the game you literally have to use your body, holding the controller and a ‘nunchuk’ in your hands. A small sensor on top of the TV senses your motion and feeds that into the console. There are now quite a few games on the Wii, and Nintendo’s overall approach is towards kid-friendly and family-appropriate games, so there is a lot of Wii Sports games like bowling or archery. The Wii is fantastic for kids, families, and parties and obviously has the benefit of getting players to move around. On the other hand, there are a lot of Wiis gathering dust once the novelty wears off. The Xbox 360 also has a motion detection device known as the Kinect, although is has full-body detection and perhaps not the same variety of games.

Bowling on the Wii: great opportunities for more active gaming

Bowling on the Wii: great opportunities for more active gaming

In 2013 Nintendo released the WiiU, the ‘next-generation’ contender to the Xbox One and Playstation 4. The great thing about WiiU is that it also plays Wii games (i.e. games from the previous version of the console), which is not the case with the others. The main innovation is the WiiU GamePad: this is a much larger controller but with a screen and speakers that can be played and controlled independently of the main output (i.e. TV). This means that up to five players can get into some really innovative and different games because the person with the GamePad can have a secret look-in on a side of the game that no-one else can. The buzzword for this is ‘asynchronous gameplay’, because players are playing the same game but in different ways.

The WiiU is the followup to the casual gamer's heaven

The WiiU is the followup to the casual gamer’s heaven

The DS is a multi-screen handheld console, also produced by Nintendo, with a stylus for its bottom touchscreen. It has a strong following amongst younger gamers and fans of Japanese games (including in-depth role playing games and battle games like Pokemon). It is best considered a personal, portable console: it it much more likely to belong to a single person (i.e. is not likely to be shared), and now has an excellent back catalogue of games to suit a wide range of tastes. The DS is also excellent for mobile gaming: it can be taken everywhere and is therefore great for travel or private gaming since it doesn’t need a TV or couch.

The main difference to playing on an iPad or iPhone is that the DS is a dedicated gaming console. Overall it has a much higher quality of games (although mobile gaming is making great advances) and the games are designed more specifically for the system. Also, unless the player owns their own phone or iPad (which can be rare for younger players), they are constantly asking to borrow the device and don’t feel it’s theirs. For me, ownership and validation of gaming choices is very important, and the DS gives kids a device that they own and can’t be taken away from them (except for disciplinary reasons, of course). It does also have some good educational gaming options through us of the stylus.

The DS is perfect for personal gaming on the go

The DS is perfect for personal gaming on the go

In sum, your choice of console really depends on your purpose for buying a gaming device. If you want a family console that can be used by a whole number of people (and have a spare TV), I would probably recommend the WiiU, because it can play a large number of Wii games, and we might see some great WiiU titles coming out soon. (NintendoLand, a launch title, is an immediate standout.) If you have an Xbox 360 that is getting a lot of use already though, the Wii(U) might have trouble competing, but if you want to get more mileage out of the Xbox 360 you already have, you might consider seeing what the Kinect has to offer. If, on the other hand, your daughter wants a device all to herself that she can play privately and not have to share with anyone, and if active gaming seems more like a novelty than a genuine interest, the DS is the way to go.

2 Replies to "Ask a Gamer 1: A console primer"

  • Kerryn
    October 28, 2014 (10:27 am)

    This was really helpful – a great and hard to find review with the perspective of what a kid might want from their gaming console, instead of just hardcore adult gamers. :)

    • Chad Habel
      October 29, 2014 (4:01 am)

      Great! Yes, I try to give a perspective for parents and families that is sometimes a bit hard to find elsewhere :) If anyone has questions or things they want me to talk about, please just let me know in the comments or via via email:

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