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Endless Ocean: Blue World walks a thin line.
I am a scuba diver, and I work for an award winning scuba diving resort. We have made our name on safe and sustainable tourism practices. That means I have very high expectations of scuba diving games.
Does this game do a good job? Yes…but not a great job. Some elements of the game support unethical scuba diving.
It purports to be more than a video game. As a part of Nintendo's new "experiential" lineup of games, it offers the experience of scuba diving. It joins the ranks of similar games from the Big N, where you can "learn" to care for a dog, play music, lose weight, and participate in any number of other worthwhile activities.
Not that this is Nintendo's and developer Akira's first scuba diving game. Endless Ocean: Blue World is the sequel to 2008's Endless Ocean — which was a good game in its own right. The follow-up does streamline some of the more annoying mechanics — much less fish-fondling, for example — making for an experience that long-time video game players will find more familiar. While you can still dive anywhere to your heart's content, there is more of a story and more objectives. Simply put, there's more game.
The entire affair is imbued with the developer's dogged intent to accurately represent the sport of scuba diving. They do a great job. Your diver looks the part with all the proper equipment. It's a small detail, but to someone like me, it's stuff like this that makes the game. Your boat, your teammates, even your headquarters are straight out of diver culture. Sure, a small tropical island perfectly suited for diving may not be affordable to every ocean explorer, but isn't that why we play video games?
The game also does a good job representing the underwater environment. Marine life is actually much more plentiful and vibrant in real life, but given the limited power of the Wii, it is as good as can be expected. They do an honorable job in accurately depicting creatures of the sea, and it's the next best thing to spending thousands of dollars to become a world-traveling divemaster (and maybe any underwater episode of a David Attenborough-narrated documentary series).
I do have a gripe with Endless Ocean: Blue World. When a video game crosses the threshold from fantasy to reality simulator, it takes on a whole new set of responsibilities, and this title does not fulfill its obligations
My issue is perhaps personal, but I feel it's important. The game uses a treasure-hunting system that allows you to sell found artifacts for money. In many real-world locations, treasure hunting and salvaging aren't technically illegal, but it is a very poor practice. Then again, many governments have made treasure hunting illegal in waters that fall within their jurisdiction, such as my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Treasure hunting is a major threat to underwater archaeology, and anytime someone removes an artifact for a private collection or sale on the black market, a piece of our collected human history is lost.
It's bad enough that the public has a romantic image of scuba divers as treasure hunters, and the release of another piece of popular media that reinforces this stereotype is a detriment to the sport.
I don't think violence in video game is a catalyst for real-world acts of aggression, so why should I have an issue with this? Am I not just picking my battles here?
You could argue that, but I can make a couple distinctions between issues of violence in interactive entertainment and my issues with Endless Ocean: Blue World. First, violent acts have a much clearer line between right and wrong. Second, shooters, fighters, and other genres that use are never billed as "simulators." They are just games.
This title gives us opportunity to rethink these "reality" games. Are they truly giving us new experiences, or should we consider them fantasies as well, merely inspired by reality? I would suggest the latter and not the former. You also don't learn to take care of a dog or the intricacies of musical theory in other Nintendo games.
If Endless Ocean: Blue World aspires to a simulation of scuba diving, despite its newfound gaminess, I would have liked to see more provisos to the less desirable activities that it "simulates." That said, I want you to play this game. Scuba diving is a great sport, and if you are not a diver, you are ignoring the vast majority of this beautiful world.
If you should take the plunge, remember this advice: Only leave bubbles, only take pictures.
Real-life photos by Ocean Quest Adventures, used with permission.