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An Entertainment Machine of filial piety

A Look at Wii as a Gift for Parents
Un appareil de divertissement au service de la piété filiale. Lorsque la Wii est un cadeau destiné aux parents
Holin Lin


Dans la foulée de l'engouement pour la Nintendo Wii en 2007, l'idée selon laquelle la console de jeux est traditionnellement un "appareil offert par les parents pour les enfants" se voit supplantée dans les médias et le débat public par celle, nouvelle, d'un "appareil de support de piété filiale". Des adultes se mirent à offrir des Wii à leurs parents de façon à combler leur propre absence dans la vie familiale, ou pour remplir leur devoir – inaccompli – de prendre soin de parents âgés. Dans cette étude, le phénomène n’est pas simplement envisagé comme la réussite d’une stratégie de marketing consistant à toucher un public de joueurs jusque là considéré improbable. La nouvelle console de jeux est mobilisée par des enfants adultes dans l’objectif d’articuler les valeurs traditionnelles de l’attention filiale avec les transformations rapides de la structure familiale et les styles de vie contemporains.

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The author would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions to improve the quality of the paper. I also want to thank the National Science Council of Taiwan for providing financial support for this research.

1This article deals with a significant development in modern societies: how entertainment technologies, particularly computer games, find their ways into households and domestic life. The development I focus on involves the presentation of game consoles as gifts to elderly parents by their adult children. Such a process of gift-giving involves the values and beliefs of the larger society, and more importantly, is affected by the traits of the tech gifts. Here, the main research questions are: how is the unconventional gift-giving socially possible? What does it tell us about modern family life? Using data collected from Taiwan, I suggest that giving game consoles as gifts is a means through which young adults communicate values of filial piety, projecting imagined images of ideal family relations, and negotiating their intergenerational obligations in modern family life. It is suggested that the characteristics of technical artifacts also shape family relationships in the process of gift-giving.

Introduction: game console and the changing family culture

2Computer games have long been connected with children and youth, and game machines or software are typically considered in many cultures as gifts that children receive from their parents. However, starting with the Nintendo Wii craze in 2007, a new media trend and public discourse are taking shape in which the Wii replaced the traditional image of video games as a “children's game machine” with a new image of a “machine for family entertainment”. Although parents and children playing together was not seldom found in the pre-Wii era, since the launch of the Wii the public impression of game consoles has rapidly transformed from that of a toy for socially-isolated “nerds” to that of both a beneficial machine for family members’ physical health and an entertaining media that builds social relationships and keeps families connected.

3One indication of this change is the popular genre, “parents/grandparents playing Wii,” among self-filmed videos on the Internet. Many of these videos filmed by young adults show grandparents or parents playing Wii alone or with family members across two or three generations in a joyful atmosphere. In the videos the young adults are in control of the technology products – the video camera or Wii – while the focus of the film is the elderly parents' pleasure, along with others' reactions and comments as they manipulate the digital technologies. The enormous number of viewings these home-made videos have enjoyed in recent years also shows the appeal of these unlikely gamers having fun in family contexts.

4In Taiwan, a phenomenon that emerges along with the development of a more positive public image of gaming machine is “the game console as a gift to express filial piety” in which adult children buy a Wii for their parents to play with, to do exercise, and provide entertainment to avoid loneliness. In a way, the game console substitutes for adult children’s absence in family life, and carries out the unfulfilled duty of taking care of elderly parents. This phenomenon not only provides a fertile ground to explore how entertainment technology is brought into family life; it also bears potential to shed some light on the social shaping of technology adoption. The spread of modern technology is often regarded as a natural result of its powerful and irresistible design. Yet the fact that the game is given as a gift demonstrates the social element in the spread of technology. At present, although the Wii craze is gradually fading, the phenomenon of leisure technology entering the family and home has become more frequent, marking a new family relationship intermediated through ICT (Information and communication technology).

5Two reasons have often been cited to explain the trend of these unconventional gamers entering the gaming market. The first is about breakthroughs in the design of game machines, especially the development of an easy-to-use motion-sensing game controller and, more recently, the Balance Board (e.g., Sung, 2011). The other regards the change to creative and successful marketing strategies – a shift in development focus from video and audio effects of complicated games with high entry barriers to great family-friendly titles that target the light and casual gamers market (e.g., O’Gorman, 2008), thus expanding the gaming population beyond the game market predominantly full of young gamers. This study intends to extend the scope of analysis to consider the socio-cultural aspects of the process in which new information technology is assessed and obtained to adapt to new family forms and social needs.

6To give one's elderly parents a game machine as a gift is by no means a simple matter. In addition to the negative image of videogames that would make it a socially inappropriate gift, the purchase of high-tech consumer goods often involve a set of knowledge more or less customized to the needs of consumers. Is this model the best choice for my parent(s)? What peripherals go with the machine? What game titles match the capability and need of my parent(s)? These questions must be answered before the actual purchase is carried out. Moreover, such unconventional gift-giving behaviors require a closer look at the actual context in which they are made possible. Where does the Wii-as-gift idea come from? How is the gift-giving sustbtain, negotiat produc,r MorparanclasangsWii-as12-3red ber valuaonorms andchoe socio-cd, thocirms/ng to lys expans, l'eg th's ef c tradieds ology cd, dose qusrds” playing tn whi Taisimpln? Lasiatbt inomerentiatw” rlle costics of technical arr woulthough ents sidep intgift-gtheir intergenerlasangs-gthehers' arent(s)takinon nto shaspectsmajcho="pri as gifts thabeypically co. l needs.

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1 A survey in Taiwan showed that giving food and personal care products to elderly people as presents is less likely to cause dissatisfaction (Chang, 2010). In a Taiwanese TV commercial, a married daughter visits her father’s house, and loudly claimed, “Hey, Dad, once again, I’m bringing Centrum Silver to see you!” Centrum Silver is a popular product of multivitamins in Taiwan, featuring adults over 50 by Pfizer.

2 PTT is a Bulletin Board System (BBS). In the early 1990’s, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education linked the Taiwan Academic Network (TANET) to the Internet. Afterwards, many text-only Bulletin Board System (BBS) that were easy to establish began to be set up at university campuses. Among them, the PTT set up by students of National Taiwan University in 1995 gradually developed into the largest independent online discussion site. Currently, the peak of simultaneous online users have reached about 150,000 every day, with an average of 20,000 new posted articles every day, and the highest accumulated account-times in one day have even reached more than 4 million.

3 I would like to thank the anonymous reviewer who brought this issue to my attention and the helpful comments provided.

4 Repeated articles have been excluded.

5 The United Daily News Group knowledge base enlists the contents of several local newspapers. Although it does not cover all the major print media in Taiwan, it is the most complete and largest online news database at present.

6 Systematic searches resulted in 3,096 reports, but many of them that were about stock prices, industry news, latest products, or the Wii as a gift for lucky draws at various events, were excluded from the reference data.

7 However, the fading trend of Wii-related reports in the media does not necessary mean the family game machine, represented by the Wii, have withdrawn from the market, or that unconventional players have quitted, but rather showed that the game machine may have become too popular and no longer an exceptional event noteworthy of reporting.

8 For example, “The Wii storm aroused around the world,” published on Business Next on 2007/2/25.

9 This type of reports included accommodating certain hotel or motels that provided the Wii machine to play for free, Wii-playing contests at graduation ceremonies, teacher appreciation banquets, community events, summer camps, government or private business sectors using the Wii as a gift for lucky draws, and even funeral services providing paper-made Wii for burning to the deceased.

10 Psychiatrists’ claims about the medical effects of playing the Wii for people who suffers from depression, the rehabilitation functions for patients that got a stroke, the prevention of worsening dementia for elderly people, and other general healthy descriptions.

11 Purple Ink, “An unforgettable story – about SEGA and Wii,” 2007/12/14, in the China Times.

12 “[Question] games suitable for parents,” posted by Anop on 2007/8/11, at PTT Wii discussion board.

13 Author’s posted article “[Question] Want to give a Father’s Day gift…,” posted by Poemscout, on 2011/7/17, at PTT Wii discussion board.

14 Author Ducksky’s reply to an article posted by W11, titled “My mother woke me up early in the morning to play Wii Fit,” replied on 2008/3/2, at PTT Wii discussion board.

15 Author tezuka1115’s reply to an article posted by hsnulight, titled “If I want to buy Wii for my parents,” replied on 2011/3/17, at PTT Wii discussion board.

16 “Photographs taken during New Year’s holiday can be shared with family members by using Wii,” posted by Markbex on 2010/2/14, at PTT Wii discussion board.

17 “Playing Wii with dad and mom,” posted by mmonkeyboyy on 2007/1/14, at PTT Nintendo discussion board.

18 Agency problems between Nintendo and its long-term exclusive agent in Taiwan – Hakuyu, had caused the timing for Wii’s launch in Taiwan postponed for about two years. As the official launch was postponed to 2008 and agency disagreements between the companies further led to Hakuyu filing a lawsuit against Nintendo in 2011 for terminating their long-term exclusive agency, many gamers in Taiwan had bought parallel imported Wii machines from Japan between 2006 and 2008. Therefore the entry barrier of playing Wii with Japanese interface was even higher for people who did not understand Japanese.

19 "My dad is frantically addicted to sports", posted by dayanmeme on 2007/4/15, at PTT Nintendo discussion board.

20 "Happy embarrassment" refers to a rewarding feeling we experience when we play a good game and soundly beat, or are beaten, by people we really like. We crave the experience of teasing each other about it (2011:83). "Vicarious pride" refers to a satisfying feeling from playing over someone else's shoulder, and giving advice and encouragement (p.87).

21 "What my parents really enjoyed...," posted by nachimu on 2007/2/9, at PTT Nintendo discussion board.

22 For example, “My mother didn’t even know how to play a CD, but now she has secretly played to breaking records” or similar descriptions were often seen. (Author RXCPU’s reply to a posted article “[Ask] If I want to buy Wii for my parents” on 2011/3/17, at PTT Wii discussion board.)

23 For example, a person posted an article about his mother who was usually uninterested in the Wii Fit that he had bought, but handed him some money and asked him to buy a dancing game that was considered rather difficult for him because he has hard time coordinating his limbs to keep up with the game, so he did not share his mother’s enthusiasm. (Author Kenny1206’s posted article “Let’s talk about our experiences of bringing Wii home!” posted on 2008/2/11, at PTTWiidiscussion board.)

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Référence électronique

Holin Lin, « An Entertainment Machine of filial piety  », RESET [En ligne], 3 | 2014, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2014, consulté le 14 décembre 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/reset.389

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Holin Lin

National Taiwan University, Department of Sociology

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© Association Recherches en sciences sociales sur Internet

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