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January 29, 2007

Elliot: Tradition And Those Who Follow It - A Lesson In How Not To Play Jazz

T.S. Elliot. There's a man I need to spend more time appreciating. Now, I will make some odd comparisons for the following quote. I never thought I could compare Nintendo, John Coltrane and T.S. Elliot, but, then again, stranger things have happened.

Elliot states that "We have seen many such simple currents soon lost in the sand; and novelty is better than repetition."

In this, I immediately and drawn to the notion of "simple currents" and "novelty." In all fairness and to be forthright, I am a Nintendo fan. I always have been and, most likely, always will be. With the release of their new gaming machine, the Wii, many have debated the issues of novelty v. immersion, "fun" v. show, etc. etc. This console is decidedly underpowered when compared with its videogaming ilk, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. However, the philosophies of the consoles couldn't possibly be more different.

Nintendo has adopted a philosophy of innovation and originality over an upgrade of the current. Traditionally, in each leap in console gaming, a new system would mean a new output of power and visuals, but, essentially, little else. There would be minor changes in numerous aspects, but nothing groundbreaking. With the Nintendo Wii, a new form of gaming has emerged. Player immersion has reached a new level. With a simple television remote-looking controller and a flick of the wrist, one's actions are reflected by the character on the screen. Swinging your arm back while holding the remote and then swinging forward is mimicked on the screen when playing a bowling game. Even a turn to the right or left will cause your ball to curve.

However, the games look like amateur hour at the improv - simple characters with big heads and blocky bodies. Who would want to play something like that? Obviously a lot of people, because the system has been selling like hotcakes and TIME Magazine awarded WiiSports (the aforementioned bowling is included in this title...which is included with the console) the "Game of the Year" award.

Why, then, is something like this winning awards and being played so much when, technologically speaking, it is highly outdated? Because it is fun. Many people from some of the other console camps have gone one to say that the new motion controls are "gimmicky" or that people will tire of them quickly. Perhaps they are right, for only time will bear this out.

How does this connect to what Elliot said? Well, let's look again at the quote. "We have seen many such simple currents soon lost in the sand; and novelty is better than repetition." As he points out, "novelty is better than repetition," which is precisely the philosophy Nintendo has embraced for this new generation, whereas the competition has followed in the "tradition" of new hardware, better graphics.

Don't get me wrong. Nice graphics and a strong processor are nice, but they aren't the whole story. Graphics are only part of the game. You play a game, you don't watch a game. Tradition, in literature or technology, is the ever clanging death knell for creativity and originality.

Moving from games to music, I want you to consider this: Jazz is, essentially, improvisational. Sure, you can write it down, but it doesn't tell the whole story. When you hear the first 5-10 notes of "Blue Train" by John Coltrane, you know that it is Coltrane. Much the same can be said for when you hear "Jazz At The Plaza" by Miles Davis. You know that it is Miles playing. Those two men are possibly the greatest jazz musicians of all time, can play those two songs - same notes and all - but will play them differently from the other.

How so? Because they don't allow themselves to become gridlocked by a notion of "tradition." Jazz is, as Tom Cruise's character in the film "Collateral" described, "behind the notes." Someone might know how to play jazz, but they have to feel the music to really play jazz.

A "fad," though it may not stand the test of time, at least will shake-up the commonplace...everything. Music, videogames, literature...they are all victims of the revolution. Without at least some form of change all things will stagnate and die.

Posted by KevinMcGinnis at January 29, 2007 10:54 PM

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Comments

I understand what you mean. It's like today's bands making covers of old songs, or when they take old movies that were popular back in the day and remake them to fit today (basically, all you have to do to make that happen is add some sexual and comic scenes).

Example my favorite movie is Sleepless in Seattle, which kind of spins (blatantly) from An Affair to Remember (which is an awesome movie, too). It was because I watched the former that made me interested in watching the latter. But just because the other came first, doesn't make it any better or worse.

Am I understanding your logic correctly, or is there more I could say?

Posted by: Valerie Masciarelli at January 31, 2007 10:16 PM

But just imagine how great Nintendo would be right now if they would have not jumped ahead and passed on the Sony cd technology, which then to Sony creating the Playstation. What could have been GoldenEye on not the 64, but the Playstation. Scary thought.

Posted by: Mitchell Steele at January 31, 2007 11:31 PM

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