When I was a child (and quite an old child at that), video games had big chunky graphics and could only be controlled by a big twisty knob which moved your rectangular on-screen bat either left or right. How excited we were by those realistic 'football' and 'tennis' games where a tiny square 'ball' bounced at 45 degrees around a monochrome screen. By the time I was a teenager video games had progressed into two dimensions, and involved pressing keys on a computer keyboard or wielding a distinctly dodgy-looking joystick. How realistic we thought these games were, as we steered our boxy spaceships through pixellated asteroid fields or careered our Formula 1 cars round barely-distinguishable Grand Prix circuits.
And then games consoles got even more realistic, requiring the use of several buttons of different shapes and sizes to allow us to mimic an even wider variety of physical actions. "To backflip and kick your opponent in the chest, press button B for half a second then simultaneously press the square and circle buttons using the thumbs on opposite hands". Learning to play a new game became like learning to play the piano, only more complicated. If you couldn't master the correct synchronised combinations of split-second knuckle reflexes for the new game you'd just bought, your on-screen character was doomed. It's no wonder that, whilst some people now adore video games, many others are completely put off by their sheer logic-defying intricacy.
This Christmas my nephews were lucky enough to get their hands on the very latest games console, the ridiculously-named Nintendo Wii. While the rest of the UK was watching the Vicar of Dibley on Christmas Day, our family's TV was devoted instead to the playing of ten-pin bowling, golf and tennis. There we all stood in front of the screen, the complete age range from 7 to 70, waving our wireless Wii remotes in the air and having a whale of a time. It wasn't the games themselves that engrossed us (all very basic, with not a ninja warrior in sight) but the unexpected simplicity of the gameplay. To hit a golf ball, swing your arm like you're hitting a golf ball. To return a tennis serve, swing your arm like you're returning a tennis serve. To bowl a bowling ball, swing your arm like you're bowling a bowling ball. No longer do you have to translate your actions into a series of key presses or joystick swivels. In one unexpected and innovative leap, the Wii has made video games far more realistic.
I suspect that Nintendo have a highly profitable winning product on their hands. Hardcore gamers probably won't be converted, but consumers in the wider marketplace now have a simple and inclusive alternative to button pushing complexity. Everyone can join in. Take the family ten-pin bowling without having to fork out £5 each for the privilege or changing into embarrassing plimsolls. Get home from the pub on a Friday night and challenge your drunken mates to a game or three of proper tennis. Encourage your slightly chubby teenager to lose weight by pretending to beat the crap out of a cartoon opponent in a boxing match. At long last, video games can be sociable, instinctive and physical.
Of course, Wii games still aren't properly realistic. I can't score 173 in a real game of ten-pin bowling (I usually end up with about 100 less, and rather more shots tumbling embarrassingly down the gutter). I can't hit a real golf ball 200 yards down the fairway (I'd almost certainly end up thwacking it 100 yards short, or chipping it sideways into the rough). The sheer embarrassment of true realism is, thankfully, still a long way off. Until then, I shall continue to try to impress my nephews with my uncanny ball skills and astonishing sporting dexterity. Wii are amused.