Couldn’t be the only blog not to write something about the Wii, could I?
I think I’ve figured out the rationale behind the name. In Japanese, “we” is erroneously thought to be the English translation of the Japanese word “minna”, which actually means “everybody” (as in “Minna Daisuke Katamari Damacy”, which literally means “Everybody Loves Katamari Damacy” — hence the game’s theme of a world full of people who want to help the prince — but was released in the English-speaking world as “We Love Katamari Damacy”). The Japanese language actually does this a lot; misusing foreign words (like using the word “viking” to mean “buffet” or the word “mansion” to mean “condominium”), or even using made-up words that sound English (like “freeter” or “skinship“), the same way that English uses the Japanese word “hentai” specifically to describe anime/manga porn.
So, since “we” is mistranslated in Japan to literally mean “everybody”, it makes perfect sense in Japan for this to be the name of the console; it’s the console for everybody, and everyone in Japan will automatically think “everybody” and “community” when they hear/see the word “Wii”, just like Americans automatically think “anime porn” when they hear the word “hentai”. Unfortunately, we can only assume that Nintendo either didn’t do enough English-language market research, or only questioned American ex-pats who had lived in Japan so long that they’d forgotten English slang, since in the English-speaking world the word “wee” means “urine”, “penis”, or “small and weak”, depending on the context. Especially with the ambiguous spelling of “Wii”, these purile definitions are the first to spring to mind; in an informal poll I ran yesterday after the announcement of the new name, an equal number of people immediately thought “urine”, “penis”, or “small and weak” upon reading/hearing the word “Wii”, and absolutely zero people thought it meant “We” (incidentally, the most people just thought it was a typo of “Wifi”).
I hope that Nintendo’s hubris will not prevent them from changing the name of the system in the English-speaking market (after all, the Famicom and Super Famicom had different names outside of Japan, where the name “Famicom” was perceived as being kind of… “wee”). The fact that their marketing department has to keep telling people “‘Wii’ sounds bad initially, but once you go to our website and read the little blurb about how it really means ‘We’ and ‘togetherness’ it totally makes sense” should be a major indicator that something’s wrong, since the “everybody” market that they’re trying to reach isn’t going to go to their website and read their blurb, they’re just going to see the “Nintendo Wii” on the shelf at their local Walmart, laugh at it, and buy some other console whose name doesn’t conjure images of a tiny penis squirting urine instead.
Finally, it should be noted that this is not the most eggregious instance of English-language-market-research-failure in the video game industry; that honor goes to Sega’s “Seaman” which, to drive the point home, was released with a special, limited edition, semi-transparent-white, “Seaman”-colored Dreamcast. But then, “Seaman” was just one game (which, probably due to the name, didn’t do nearly as well in America as it had in Japan), while the “Wii” is an entire console.