Why parents have a stake in E3 – and Nintendo's survival

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, started Monday, and parents have an opportunity to keep up on the latest in video game news, including the plight of the family-friendly Nintendo devices.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
A prop depicting a character from the video game "Titanfall" is on display before the opening day of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles, California June 9.

Most parents may be unaware the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, also known as E3, is underway and one of biggest opportunities for video game console and game companies to roll out their latest consumer products. This includes the launch of numerous mature titles younger kids are itching to try, despite age restrictive warnings.

Monday at E3  Microsoft's XBox, Electronic Arts (EA)Ubisoft, and Sony's PlayStation each trotted out their new games and devices for fans.

Today is Nintendo's big day to take center stage in a presentation that will be streamed online. Nintendo, known as one of the industry leaders in family-friendly game play, may fade away unless parents clap harder for companies that eschew shooter-themed games.

Because gaming can be a time vampire, and perhaps a bad influence as far as potential desensitization of violence is involved, some parents may be tempted to rejoice at the news that any gaming company is on the ropes.

But let's take a closer look at what would be lost if Nintendo loses the battle for survival in the video gaming world.

E3 began Monday, and the tidal wave of first and third-person shooter games, offering whats seems like an unceasing rain of blood and bullets in a world of increasing school shooting incidents, might be a good reason to pay attention to the woes of the company that brought us Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, and other family-friendly titles.

For the most part, while other game companies include titles that are family-friendly sprinkled into catalogs that are anchored by mature titles (ie. Sony PlayStation PS3 can boast about “Lego” and “Minecraft” games, while XBox has “Skylanders” and “Harry Potter’ titles).

Nintendo and a handful of other game companies have made it their business to create games that only reach a violence level of alien blasting and swashbuckling, available on Nintendo devices in the games “Metroid” or “The Legend of Zelda” respectively.

While there are Nintendo-compatible versions of games I don’t allow my sons to play, including “Call of Duty” (made for the 3DS and WiiU devices), they are not produced by the Nintendo Corporation, but by other game developers who release the games for multiple platforms.

Nintendo has announced annual losses three years running, according to an ABC report. Yesterday Nikkei Asian Review announced that for the first time in eight years, Nintendo has been overtaken in console sales by rival Sony.

I decided to check in with my resident video game expert think tank – also known as my four uber-gamer sons.

My sons were delighted to learn that I was reporting on the annual E3 conference as part of an assignment.

“Good. Now save Nintendo,” said Ian, 19, who is a die-hard fan of the 3DS and its family-friendly titles such as Nintendo’s “Luigi’s Mansion” and “Monster Hunter.”

Because I didn’t know any video game industry giant needed the help of a mom, I asked what’s wrong with the company.

(Memo: Never ask a room full of Nintendo fans what’s wrong with their favorite gaming company unless you’re prepared for total geek overload.)

Ian, Avery, 15, and Quin, 10, as well as several other visiting teens in the room, filled me in on everything from the fact that the WiiU console fails to interface with other Nintendo devices such as the handheld 3DS, to the “annoying” WiiU controller.

“But basically Nintendo is just getting "pwned" [a gamer abbreviation of the words ‘perfectly owned,’ pronounced p-oh-nd] by all the other companies that make all the FPS [first-person shooter] and 3PS [third-person shooter] games like Call of Duty, Halo,” Quin shared. 

He added, “Basically, everything you've ever banned."

Now I was interested in the cause my kids had set before me and knew I needed to research further.

I contacted the one absent member of the gamer think-tank, my son Zoltan, 20, who is away at college.

“Hardware and online gaming aside, the core issue is that Nintendo’s storylines are played-out and people get bored, so they go primal with mindless shooter games,” Zoltan explained.

“The exception of course would be the game ‘Zelda.’ If they continued that storyline and did an HD version and could make some platform cross-over from WiiU to 3DS they would be back in business.”

When I got off the phone, I thought about how attached my sons have always been to the characters and “stories” told by games played on Nintendo devices through the years.

At no time before this conversation had I thought of video game developers as storytellers.

In that light, it makes sense that Disney and other filmmakers have entered into the video gaming world and subsequently found success.

Just a few months ago, Quin had me making our own plush Mario and the Mushroom Kingdom characters for months because he wanted to have them in hand to continue the adventures that had become stale in the virtual video game world.

Avery, 15, is a “Metroid” and “Monster Hunter” guy to the core, who ran into the room last week and stopped the presses in a rare public display of emotion, shouting, “‘Monster Hunter 4’ is coming in 2015! I am happiness!”

Zoltan, 20, has played “Legend of Zelda” on every platform Nintendo offers and dressed as the game’s character Link last Halloween with some help from my mom who made the character’s signature hat for him.

Plus, all four of my sons have followed their favorite games, like Pokemon, from the handheld DS device to consoles that hook to a TV set and now, in some cases, to online versions that have become complex, highly social, multiplayer gaming environments, making friends in Japan, Hawaii, and Australia, among other locations.

Tuesday, Nintendo will take the stage at E3 to announce its newest offerings.

No matter what the outcome, I believe gaming companies would be wise to still serve the family gaming contingent, and focus on the storytelling inside the games over the kill count.

Parents have the chance to tune in to E3 online with their kids and gain a better understanding of what game titles are gaining popularity and what help steer kids to the best game choices that fit.

In a way, this relates to the old adage, “The family that plays together, stays together,” but is updated as we find new platforms and applications in the digital age that we all can share.

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