Hugo Craft-Stanley, Goldsmiths, University of London
I recently rediscovered my old family Wii. Switching it on, inserting our scratched-up Mario Kart disc, I found myself noticing the trundling, whirring sounds of the disc drive. This sound, something I wouldn’t normally consider part of the Wii experience, emerged as a kind of unintended soundtrack to my playing. I noticed that the mechanical whir intensified when moving between race tracks and menus in the game, sometimes reaching an almost alarming crescendo, as if the disc drive was trying to drown out the upbeat game music. It is not an intentional part of the game - unlike the visuals, the music and sound effects - and yet I can’t help but notice its presence as a constant backdrop to my playing.
I seem to notice these sounds more as I play now than I did as a child. Perhaps the Wii, now over a decade old, is louder and more rickety than it once was. Or perhaps the sounds seem more prominent because I’ve become used to software-based playback technologies, which have no need for moving parts that trundle and whir. When I play back a song on Spotify or load up a game there is no mechanical sound, apart from the occasional gasp of the laptop’s fans. ‘Playback’ has a different meaning in this context – it feels somehow separate to the disc-based media of my childhood.
Rediscovering the Wii has reminded me how our experience of media texts is enabled and shaped by playback technologies and their idiosyncrasies. These physical technologies often remain invisible in our understanding of media, where the texts themselves - films, games, songs and so on - are usually the focus, as Henry Jenkins reminds us in his prompt. The Wii reminds me how the distinctive sounds of playback technologies - from the whirring of a DVD drive to the clattering of the computer keyboard - form a backdrop to many of our media experiences, despite lying beyond what would normally be considered a part of the media text. When we notice these sounds, they can act as a reminder of the material technologies that are so intertwined with our media experiences.