Wii Are Family: A French Look At A Global Gaming Phenom

Romantic that I am, I took French in 8th grade yet proceeded to live in locations where Japanese, Chinese or Spanish were the language of choice; yet somehow, French still sticks in my brain.

There are plenty of language resource hubs and brain data expressing the myths of kids’ critical learning years for foreign language, but regardless of linguistics research all I know is those cram courses and Berlitz trip tips for immersion abroad didn’t have the same ‘umpf’ or staying power as the middle school Francophile tidbits still pinging around my memorization quadrants, n’est ce pas?

I still find catch phrases popping up in my vocab (hey, maybe I should try the Ubi Wii course refresher, at left, eh?) I stumbled on the ‘Frog Blog’ of witty parent/step-parent and MA translator/educator Pamela Poole, with great glee…Not just because she’s a SoCal expat now living in the Latin Quarter of Paris “where freedom of expression is real and so is the cheese,” but because she adds a touch of, er…je ne sais quoi to the global youth media and marketing conversation. I think you’ll agree…

I won’t get into the whole PC World gaming controversy over ‘cultural credits’ and French tax breaks for game developers, nor into the nuances of the French version of global games like Wii (compatibility, what works with what, etc.) as there are entire Wii chat rooms and tip sheets about that kind of international adaptation.

I just want to talk look at the deployment of the game console into a revolution (French or otherwise!) that now seems far beyond a gaming platform itself…with new channels reaching into new areas of family life. For better, or for worse? (warning, the enthusiastic screaming will pierce your ear drums, video below too)

Pamela Poole’s first person piece exemplifies ‘how it starts’…as a ‘try it you’ll like it’ gaming phenom.

Her reticence in adopting the Wii as the hyped up mega-hit of the holiday season was something I could relate to, as my thought pattern STILL veers toward,

“Sports as a multiplayer family gaming platform? Why not ‘just do it’ outside?”

When she ended up being a fan, I felt like a killjoy, and figured I’d once again better listen up, read and heed because even stalwart ‘why bother’ folks were getting in on the game.

After all, I’ve played Wii Fit at exergaming conferences like Gaming for Health and the Network for a Healthier California summit, alongside my exuberant godkids, and now Electronic Arts is coming out with EA Sports Active in the spring, so I’m well aware of the advantages of engagement and play using Health 2.0 gaming strategies.

I KNOW you can delve into the details of quantifiable outcomes in reports like iconecto’s Health-e games report from Doug Goldstein and all of the Gaming4Health articles I’ve written about arcade faves and cool orgs like Playnormous and HopeLab who are doing great things with healthy gaming out there…But in these tight times…I can’t help but think…

Isn’t it a lot cheaper if ‘Wii’ are all just playing outside?

Can’t ‘Wii’ all get along without expensive gizmos when those of us with legs and arms are equipped to handle that challenge?

Is it THAT hard that Wii connect without needing technology and even table topics and gizmos to prompt play and dialog in order to bond as a family?

Mais non, mon ami! Like SO much media/marketing…

Wii falls into the ‘not necessary, but a heckuvalotta fun’ dimension…

Pamela Poole’s very French take on this global marketing phenom is worthy of reading on a variety of levels…

Her initial 18-year old retro-look back at her ‘pong’ years as an arcade aficionado and the inclusiveness of older generations not being treated as dinosaurs…the familial bonding of game play itself, and the familial angst of finding her 12-year old tween stepson received San Andreas as a gaming gift to swing the play pendulum right on over to ‘what are parents thinking’ turf…Argh.

And, um, Pamela, I hate to tell you, but over at Weary Parent the ‘cool mom’ cluelessness ratchets up an even higher notch with one parent dealing with a mom that gifted porn to her 16 year old son, so it DOES get worse, in the ‘what are these parents thinking’ mode…sheesh.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s Pamela Poole’s Wii Are Family post, and a bit about what drew me to her in the first place.

Check out her style: “I wear red cowboy boots. What I love about gerberas is that they’re exuberant and unpretentious. Marguerite Duras is my favorite author. I need to stick my feet in the ocean from time to time or I’ll wither and die. I take the boots off first, of course.”

Gawd I love the internet enabling me to meet other fun women like this! Pamela, any time you’re in the S.F. Bay Area…Mi casa, su casa!

Oops. Wrong romantic language…Pardon moi, mon ami!

Wii Are Family By Pamela Poole (Frog Blog)

“True story. I stood on a street corner in Waikiki, 18, wearing a tiny white tank top with a sparkly star on it and tiny denim cutoffs, asking tourist men if I could have a quarter to call my mom. I only asked the ones who were with women (didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea). The women all scowled. But I got $16 in quarters in a couple of hours, and then my angel-faced, long-blond-haired boyfriend and I went to a nearby hotel.

To play Space Invaders in the lobby.

There was a very old man sitting there, on a couch not far from us, watching as we played. I looked over at him, smiled and said hi at one point, and he asked what we were doing. I explained and convinced him to give it a try. So he came over and played a few games on the tourists’ quarters. Younger people, his kids I guessed, showed up to collect him, eventually, and looked rather concerned that he was fraternizing with street urchins. As he stood, he took a wad of 20s out of his wallet and held it out to me. I said no, but he insisted. Just because he was so grateful that we’d acknowledged and included him. Because we’d treated him like a person and not an old person.

I liked playing Pong with my dad when I was a kid. But I was pretty much over video games by the time Space Invaders went out of style. For the most part, I despise them.

My poor son Trevor will attest to the fact that I wouldn’t allow them in the house when he was growing up (except for a GameBoy, which we often deprived him of out of spiteful parental revenge for misbehavior and stuff.) We limited TV time too, for that matter. He is scarred, I’m sure, because all of his friends were allowed to have video games.

I just wanted him to be a reader and a thinker and I was convinced video games (and TV) did not foster, and probably even hindered that kind of mental development. It was my call. Now 23, Trevor plays WoW and others regularly, and that’s fine with me, because he is also a reader and a thinker. And he writes damn well too.

(Imagine my shock and dismay when I moved in here and found that Vincent’s ex-wife had just bought their 12-year-old son San Andreas to play on his brand new laptop. Over-compensation issues and total cluelessness? Clearly. But not my call.)

So when Vincent was out of ideas for his kids’ Christmas presents this year (at 15 and almost 13, they’re at a hard age to buy for), he thought he’d get them a Wii.

Video-game Scrooge that I am, I said, “Fine, whatever, I have earplugs.”

So the day comes, the kids are thrilled. And so was I. The Wii is fun. Yes, you can play the same dull games on it (where little people or monkeys or whatever run and fly and jump and dodge things and go through things and shoot things and bump into other things for points) that you can play on other consoles. Those bore me to tears. And they make me hostile. Really.

But the little sports games that come with the Wii are a total blast. Bowling, tennis, baseball. There’s boxing too, which doesn’t do anything for me. In general, it’s wholesome family entertainment. For young and old alike. And so on. I actually told my brother, a fairly regular gamer who surprisingly doesn’t have one yet, that he should get one and that I thought even his wife (like me, not a big fan) would enjoy it. Never thought I’d see the day.

What hooks you right away is the Miis, little characters you create in your own image that then play the games. (Very crafty, Nintendo.) And since we have a resident geek artist, Vincent made all of our Miis and did a marvelous job of it. I asked him to make me a Trevor so I can play tennis and go bowling with him even though he’s a million miles away in California. Vincent boxed with his daughter, at her request, but when his Mii KO’d her Mii he felt like a horrible father. (He was so guilt-ridden and contrite. It was adorable.)


Vincent gets beside himself with excitement watching my little Mii playing tennis in a green miniskirt. It is flattering on some twisted level… And I find his little Mii irresistible too. I wish we could make keychains out of them! And t-shirts! And coffee mugs! (There’s that all-American merchandising instinct.)

It’s a French Wii, of course. (So those buttons don’t say the English word “quitter.” It’s the French word for “quit.”) The only problem is, now I want the Madden NFL game. Vincent got his son a soccer game that is really cool. But the Wii games made for American Wiis don’t work on French Wiis, and I’m not sure they’ve made an NFL game for this market. Not a lot of American football fans among the Frogs.

When you play the baseball game, the Wii automatically puts the Miis you’ve made (along with other random characters) on the teams. So I get to see Trevor come up to bat. I’m kind of tempted to make Miis for other people I miss. Like my dad, who left the building 10 years ago. Mom, brother, sister-in-law, nephew. Buddies back home… Maybe I’d enjoy the boxing game if I made an ex-husband Mii…

Nah. Wouldn’t want him around. And Vincent probably wouldn’t go for it anyway.”

Wii: Creating an Insane Culture of Consumption?! (warning, obnoxious shreaking!)

Or Funny Family Festivity Via Video?! (You decide)

Visual Credits: French cultural symbols/logo icons: France This Way, Wii Miis by Pamela Poole of Frog Blog, Video via PWNorDie.com.

Shaping Youth: Gaming Resources & Articles That Might Surprise!

Health eGames Market Report 2008

Games for Health 2008 Slideshare.net Recap (e.g. Generation Fit: ExerLearning, etc.)

Gaming4Health Online Arcade: Games On Nutrition

Wii-habilitation for heartfailure patients

Gaming Conferences Summits & Mtgs. (note the number of health/gaming topics!)

Children in Virtual Worlds.org—Papers & Presentations, Spring ‘08

Web Worlds ‘Useful’ For Children (BBC News)

Study Finds Virtual Worlds Offer Good Real World Lessons for Kids (Switched, re: CBBC)

Games for Change: Public Health

Serious Games Initiative/Experimental Health Game Jam

Computer Games Teach Healthy Food Habits

Digital Games for Social Change (G4C Festival)

(Kotaku) Kids Who DON’T Play Video Games Are At Risk (?! source note)

Helpful Ways to Reduce Screen Time (NIH)



  1. From Anne Collier’s NetFamily News blog here:

    Gaming Over Music: New Research on Kids

    “A new study by market researcher NPD Group found that 85% of children aged 2-14 use game consoles, and 82% of 2-to-5-year-olds play games on one or more devices, while 60% use digital music players, Gamasutra reports. NPD’s Kids & Digital Content III report, which surveyed more than 3,500 kids who use electronic devices, also found that a third of the 2-to-14-year-olds watch videos such as movies and online video clips on laptops or other electronic devices, and 22% download ringtones on their cellphones. Here’s more on the NPD report from Gamespy. Meanwhile, in a keynote speech at CES, Mike Griffith, CEO of Guitar Hero maker Activision, “proclaimed that video games are ‘poised to eclipse all other forms of entertainment in the decade ahead’,” the BBC reports. “He quoted US market statistics which showed that between 2003 and 2007 sales of movie tickets fell by 6%; the number of hours of TV watched dropped by 6%, sales of recorded music slumped 12% and purchases of DVDs remained flat.”

  2. Hi Amy.

    Thanks for posting my article. I love all your commentary and thank you so much for the warm intro and invite!

    About the French government subsidies for video game development and the article you link to (http://www.developmag.com/interviews/151/All-that-glitters).

    Mr. Gibson is looking at this through a purely anglo-saxon/capitalist lens! First of all, he seems to mock the fact that to earn these subsidies the games being developed have to have a cultural element. How can that be a bad thing? (And the beret remark is just a little snide, reducing his credibility in my eyes).

    Second, the French pour–and I mean pour–money into the arts. And guess what: the terms “art” and “commercially viable” are not used in the same sentence by the French. See Mr. Gibson’s quote:

    “Grants totalling hundreds of millions of Euros were being poured into games companies, some without commercially viable products.”

    The French undoubtedly consider video game development to be an artistic pursuit, or they believe that it can be, and if they want to encourage that aspect rather than the commercial one, well, more power to them. The priority they have always given to the arts is why they have a cultural heritage worth preserving in the first place. And why shouldn’t they tap into the potential of tech to encourage artistic creation and potentially improve their own economy? Why can’t tech and art and financial success co-exist?

    One of the reasons I live here is because I believe in many cases the French have their priorities right!

  3. Ah, FABULOUS commentary Pamela! THIS is EXACTLY why I want to get a more ‘global’ view going here from various countries, as you are absolutely right, the American/capitalist bubble is all about commercialism/free trade/making money and much less about art and nuance in all its many forms…

    It’s so refreshing to have a different POV than the universal gaming industry one (albeit S.Y. brings yet another POV on the pros AND cons of media/mktg. pursuits altogether) so I thank you profusely for your important point of view.

    It helps balance out the myopia which we North Americans often have in terms of economic and political priorities as well…Looking forward to hearing more from you!

  4. This idea of the French pouring money into game development has been going on for a long time – in 1984 I went to Cannes at the invitation and expense of the government of France to be on an international panel of educational game developers (for Apple, Commodore, Atari, etc…) at their equivalent of the US Consumer Electronics Show. They were intensely interested in principles and practice, and as you say, much less interested in whether a game would be commercially viable. I was interviewed live on TV, recorded for radio (and at the last minute when electricity failed, I actually served as translator for some of the panelists because the translators’ booth wasn’t functioning). I am glad to hear that it’s continuing.

  5. Well, I knew you were a jack of all trades, monsieur Schuyler, but I had no idea you were at a level of translator as well! Tres bon!Speaking of games, have you seen the latest one on the Facing Up.org site called “Budget Hero” where kids can play around with the debt analysis of our country and learn skill sets about same? Cool concept, not sure on the execution based on some of our widget testers, as it might be a bit complex, depending on the demo. Take a peek and lemme know what you think? It’s from the Serious Games Initiative, American Public Media crew: http://budgethero.publicradio.org/widget/widget.php?refid=apm

    I’m thinking of posting about it to continue my series on the dangers of debt/financial literacy education for kids… (as soon as you sound the all clear for posting again after you port to the new server!) 😉 –Amy

  6. Пинайте своего хостера – сайт с трудом открылся 🙁

  7. I’ll add this one for ya, Pamela in case you’re in town here in the S.F. Bay area: http://www.parisoma.com

  8. I just love your weblog! Very nice post! Still you can do many things to improve it.

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