It seems like a silly idea. Even for those heavily invested in the success of one console over another. It’s an idea turned parody: the belief that a single video game could ‘save’ a console.
Earlier this year Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata stood up in front of a group of testy investors and attempt to steady nerves by stating that the “fate of a video game system is often influenced greatly by the introduction of a single title”.
One could only assume he meant it, but it was hard to take the idea seriously. How could a single video game save the Wii U — the worst selling home console the company had ever released, a piece of hardware with the traction of Teflon, a console skidding towards slow death with the grace of an overweight baboon on roller skates. How could we expect to imagine that a single game could possibly rescue the Wii U from the doldrums? It was, quite literally, unimaginable.
But you might argue that’s the point – that it is unimaginable. How could anyone have imagined say, the existence of Pokemon, until it was imagined? Or Wii Sports for that matter. The kind of cultural phenomenon that shifts consoles at life-reviving speeds is impossible to manufacture in a laboratory. These ideas appear in the wild. They simply occur. In a vacuum. They are mini Tsunami and all anyone can hope to do is ride the subsequent wave for as long as humanly possible.
But what if that mini Tsunami wasn’t a game — what if it was something as pointless as a GIF? A five second GIF heard around the world. The five second GIF currently haunting all of our Facebook feeds like an imprint. The five second GIF that somehow managed to take Mario Kart 8 all the way from Kotaku to Fox bloody news?
What if the Wii U’s mini Tsunami was simply a well timed GIF of Mario’s brother Luigi, mean mugging his rival Waluigi, post blue shell, en route to victory in Mario Kart 8? The Luigi Death Stare.
How could anyone have imagined that?
It sounds crazy. Even as I typed those words I had to stop, re-read and ask myself: is this real life? Is this pure hyperbole?
Maybe. But maybe not.
Consider this: in this mess of tweets and status updates we call the internet, there is no stronger cultural currency than the humble GIF, particularly the kind we can share and claim as our own. There isn’t a marketing budget on this planet that could have had the kind of positive impact the Luigi Death Stare GIF had. None. In fact, the first time I saw the GIF was on Facebook, it was accompanied by the words, “this GIF may just have sold me on a Wii U”. The next day a status update: “Just bought a Wii U, who wants to play Mario Kart?”
Incredible. I saw about a dozen similar messages on my various feeds over the next two or three days. 24 hours later it was on Fox News. This is how we communicate. We live in a world where a simple GIF could very well drag the Wii U in from the brink.
Or at the very least, it could represent the tipping point. Let’s dial things back a bit. Let’s make some simpler, more easily digestible arguments. There are obviously contributing factors to the rapid fire spread of the Luigi Death Stare. First and foremost, Mario Kart 8 is a very good video game. It may be the best Mario Kart ever made. It’s the console sequel to Mario Kart Wii, which sold a mind boggling 36 million units. That’s roughly double what both Mario Galaxy games sold combined. If any game was going to ‘save’ the Wii U it would probably be a Mario Kart game
But the oil greasing the wheels? It’s a GIF. People: it’s a GIF. This is the world we live in. This is how word about the game is spreading. The Luigi Death Stare has taken over Tumblr. Twitter and Facebook is awash with alternate videos, GIFs, everything. People are making their own Luigi Death Stares. There is already a Subreddit dedicated to them. It has 9000 subscribers. It’s been on Fox News. I’m counting down the hours till an email appears in my long discarded Hotmail account, with a ludicrously large video file attached: “saw this and thought of you, love Mum.”
Doubt the power of this phenomenon at your peril and consider this: in 2013 Nintendo made a large scale concerted effort to rebrand Luigi. I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and assert that a lot of money was spent in this endeavour. ‘This is the year of Luigi’, they said, as they made numerous attempts to sell video games with his face on the cover. There’s no real way to measure the success or failure of the year of Luigi but outside of a few parody twitter accounts, and long running jokes on a few gaming websites, it didn’t exactly infiltrate anyone’s life. It didn’t make Fox News. My Mum won’t be emailing me about it any time soon.
I wonder: could the Wii U be the first video game console with a GIF for a killer app?