A family gathers in a living room. They're all together, but each of them is alone, looking at their hardware—laptops, smartphones, tablets, whatever.
And you, you go out with friends, but you find yourself checking your email or Twitter instead of talking to those around you.
This is the age in which we live: we exist in the same physical space, but sometimes in different virtual ones. It's also something Nintendo aims to change with a game machine.
The concepts of how our social lives have changed through technology are among the concepts discussed in the book Alone Together by M.I.T. professor Sherry Turkle.
In a recent video presentation, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata specifically mentioned the Alone Together as one of the inspirations for the Japanese game maker's upcoming home console, the Wii U.
"We believe we can solve the issue of alone together," he says near the end of the half-hour tour of Nintendo's new vision.
While most electronics companies might be happy that users are paying more attention to their hardware than friends or family, Nintendo isn't. Nintendo wants to change the way people interact with their electronics from a portal to the virtual world to a virtual tool you can use to interact with those nearby as well as those far away.
"New technologies have, in general, made life easier and more efficient," said Nintendo president Iwata. "But we have to wonder what this means for the nature of human relationships moving forward."
With Nintendo's latest console, the main concept was to offer a unique experience—namely, to get players up off the sofa. It also aimed to break down the walls that separate gamers and non-gamers. With titles like Wii Sports, the Wii succeeded. It was a console gamers could play with non-gamers. It became a communication tool for family members, both young and old. It was something that got people up and got them to play. Together.
The Wii was so focused on the living room that it seemed to forget where increasing numbers of people live their lives: the internet. The Wii U looks like it will correct that mistake with a serious online push.
"Even with no one else in the room, you won't feel alone," said Iwata. Yet, this isn't all or nothing—only virtual or only physical. Nintendo doesn't want Wii U gamers to be so absorbed in their games that they ignore other people in the same room. Rather, Nintendo is hoping to use the console to connect those far away and those close by, creating a connect ion that can be either physical or virtual.
The word that Nintendo is using more and more is "empathy". It's an interesting word, and it's oddly touching that Nintendo is thinking about where gaming and empathy cross. It's also a word that, at once, loses relevance as our lives become increasingly electronic and virtual. However, it's also a word that has more meaning in our lives, because of the way technology is changing the way we live.
The empathy that people feel isn't necessarily to people, but rather, the actual hardware. As Alone Together pointed out, we've become inseparable from our phones. It's a way we can defeat loneliness, but is that at the risk of ignoring the ones around us? You can have it both ways: the virtual and the physical. Nintendo wants you to have it both ways.
"We believe that the Wii introduced a new form of 'together,'" said Iwata. For Nintendo, the Wii U is "together, better" and certainly not alone.