Elebits

One of the first titles announced for Nintendo’s Wii was Konami’s enigmatic Elebits game. A high tech game of hide and seek, playing this game means hunting brightly colored creatures and zapping them to sap their vital life energies. Sounds a bit macabre, but Elebits is gussied up with juvenile anime artwork and an innocent art style that lends to harmless electro-zoological vampirism.

The story follows a young man who seems at first to be of indeterminate gender, as he tries to discover why a black out has prevented the viewing of a favorite television program. Kai, the youth, is the child of enigmatic research scientists who deal with Elebits, small energy-producing creatures who are this society’s sole source of energy. They are on a sort of strike, sleeping, hiding, and wandering around not producing much needed electricity. Kai obtains his father’s “capture gun” and proceeds to make a mess of his home and the town, zapping Elebits to reenergize dormant electronics, while his parents leave him unattended to look at more Elebits through their microscopes.

The Great Hunter

Though the plot of this game is just adequate enough to keep the player going forward, the interesting aspect of this title stems from its exploitation of human visual acuity and hunting strengths. People are hard wired to detect deviations in patterns. As a hunting species, we notice things that are out of place, blemishes on otherwise clean surfaces, and the movement or out of place color of objects, animals, or other people. In Elebits, the player must find hundreds of candy-colored creatures and zap them. Many of these beasts are hiding or are stuck inside drawers or boxes or the like. The player uses the Wii remote like a “gravity gun” to manipulate objects in the game space and reveal hiding Elebits.

If we did not have a predilection for spotting deviations in patterns, this game would be exceedingly difficult. As a hunting species, human players, versus hypothetical non-hunting species players, are able to quickly and easily spot most of the Elebits as they nap or literally roll around on the ground. Though mostly docile, many Elebits are well hidden, and require a sharp eye. A few rare ones attack you, and others have more gimmicks still, but none of them are as hostile as Kai seems to be. Many films play into the physiological and instinctive conditioning most people are wired for. The special effects and cinematography departments of studios are well trained in playing on our fears, our abilities to see patterns and deviations, and our ability to be startled at sudden movement.

In that same way, Elebits plays into our intrinsic ability to spot hidden objects in a landscape. Other games play on similar, more film-based, effects, but few with the same kind of interesting guile as Elebits. The game is remarkably juvenile, having a light and childish atmosphere, but is an interesting piece of children’s literature. Youth genre literature usually lends a comforting but cautionary tale to children, and while this game does little to caution children about shooting wild animals, it does serve as a coordination tool.

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