Thursday, April 27, 2006

Us, Them and "Wii"

I put a lot of stock into names. My name, for example, means “vision” to the Welsh, while to the Hebrew-literate it merely looks like a part of the word for “man” — a old, old word more familiar to Western folk as “Andrew” or the anthro in “anthropology.” But if I had to chose, I’d rather go for the name that means “vision” — whether in the sense of eyesight or the religious kind where angels speak like trumpets and dance on pins — than something that, for etymological purposes, means “part of a man” or “not all of a man.”

Get it?

It’s not that I think names bear this mystical quality that, like the stars a person is born under, somehow direct their life. It’s just that if you name a kid “Biff,” he’s probably not going to grow up to be a florist, though little Neville might. And the kid who gets named “Dot” or “Penny” or “Ann” will have to strive a little bit harder to make an impression as will pretty girls like Gloriosa, Magdalena and Czarina. It’s the difference that one combination of letters makes over another: “Iceland” or “Greenland,” “mist” or “fog,” “feces” and “shit.”

In a similar manner, I tend to pay close attention to brand names. When botanists created the fur-less, yellow-fleshed variety of kiwi fruit — an invention that makes all of our lives better, whether you realize it or not — a team of advertising exec versed in linguistics had to think hard about what brand name they could call this new fruit. The name, as I remember reading in a newspaper article about the fruit, had to sound the same in every language and couldn’t mean anything bad. They eventually dubbed the fruit “zespri,” a name that connotes freshness and sprightliness to English-speakers, while still looking exotic enough to make the product it’s attached to seem special. “Zespi” is one manufactured brand name that I personally find satisfying.

It should be no secret to those who know me that I still play video games, and, as a result, still keep an idea on the market. Now that I approach the subject as an adult, however, I have begun to notice just how tricky the video game market can be. Nintendo, for example, has been my stand-by video game company since I first started playing. My brother got an NES for Christmas when I was six, and since then my family has always been a Nintendo family. The NES, then the Super NES, then the Nintendo 64, all the way to the Gamecube I got during my sophomore year of college. These, as well as every permutation of the Game Boy, have made this Japanese company an integral part of my American childhood. Just like Catholicism, Disney, California agriculture, “The Simpsons” and representative democracy, Nintendo is one of these non-human yet completely omnipresent institutions of my life that has helped shape me into me. I couldn’t begin to explain how, but I just know that all that time spent sitting in front of those machines had to affect me somehow. It had to.

Anyway, these two beliefs of mine — the power of names and the fact that Nintendo is somehow, for some reason, important — intersected today when I was flipping through Google News and saw an item about Nintendo’s new console system, the competition for the Xbox 360, the upcoming Playstation 3. Up until recently, Nintendo had been code-naming the project “The Revolution,” much in the manner that the company once called the Nintendo 64 the “Ultra 64” and the Gamecube “Project Dolphin.”

The chosen name for the new system: “Wii.” That’s right. And it’s pronounced like “we” — or like “wee” or “wee-wee” or “weak” or “wiener” “or “weenie.” Apparently, Nintendo chose the name, according to a release on the official website, in order to create a sense of unity among gamers. Since the units will be connected through a wireless network, this seems like it might work. Even written out, the name looks like “wi-fi.” However, written out, the name also looks like a typo, notes Michael Goodman, an analyst for the Yankee Group that this article quoted. Goodman also notes that an integral flaw to Nintendo’s pattern of naming is that each successive new system has no real relation to the previous one, whereas the Xbox and Playstation follow-ups sound more like sequels to the previous versions.

It’s sad to defame a company that I’ve tried to stick by — even in the face of legitimate claims that the Nintendo has a kiddy image. It does, indeed — and calling its new system the “wee” isn’t going to shake that. In a market based on cutting-edge technology, companies should put a little more effort into developing the name that invokes senses of power, fun and innovation, not short-stature. “Zespri” it ain’t.

1 comment:

  1. Well-put, sir.

    And the next generation of Smash Bros. will revolutionize what it means to shirk responsibility.