Forget videogame sex and violence, it’s Wheel of Fortune ports that are destroying the lives of our children.
I speak on this topic as one that was poisoned by Wheel of Fortune at a young age. When I was just old enough to be literate, my mother and grandfather allowed me to join them in playing a wondrous new game for the Commodore 64: Wheel of Fortune. Of course, I was already familiar with Wheel of Fortune, as it’s been dominating the same timeslot since before I was born. There has literally never been a moment in my lifetime that Wheel of Fortune was not available to watch, and I’m pretty sure my grandparents watched it religiously literally until the day they died (give or take a coma that we’re not going to count toward final totals). So, yes, I was familiar with Wheel of Fortune before I ever hit my first F5 key to solve a puzzle. Who doesn’t want to spin that wheel and win fabulous prizes?
And, if I’m being generous, I will state that my parents meant well. After all, I was a young’un that loved videogames, game shows, and was just learning how to read. A videogame that combined all three wouldn’t only be fun, it would be educational. Goggle Bob learn words good from game! And, with my mother and grandfather taking the places of the other contestants (my dad would have participated if he wasn’t such a luddite that keyboards reflexively recoil in his presence), I was guaranteed that kind of “gentle” gameplay that comes from playing a board game with an emotionally handicapped opponent (err… to be clear, that’s saying the handicap the other players have is thanks to their familial emotions, and not that any of my family members are emotionally handicapped [though my grandfather was incapable of experiencing joy from approximately 1959-2004]). I might not have won every round, but I can certainly say my rivals were giving me more than enough time to solve a puzzle. And if everything didn’t go my way, hey, they could always blame that digital version of not-Pat Sajak to avert a tantrum. It seems like playing digital Wheel of Fortune with my family as a child was a net good for Wee Goggle Bob.
Except there was one tiny problem: I eventually got good at Wheel of Fortune. And, corollary issue: I’m not a millionaire that has experienced a fabulous, all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii.
Wheel of Fortune has received surprisingly faithful ports over the years. Whereas other videogame adaptations created for home consoles have had to make some changes to the source material from time to time, Wheel of Fortune has been consistent. Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor rarely fought dinosaurs during Home Improvement, but it happened in the first level of his SNES game. Nobody ever thinks to grab the dice for traditional family Pictionary, but there it is on the NES. Wheel of Fortune, however, is exactly what grandpa and grandma would expect of a videogame. There’s the wheel, the choosing of letters, and even the later editions include the occasional changes to the television show’s formula. Maybe it’s because the rules are easy to digitally adapt, maybe it’s because Wheel of Fortune Corp. demands absolute fidelity, but, whatever the case, Wheel of Fortune: The Home Game has been unwavering as long as there have been home games.
Which means that if you are good at Wheel of Fortune the videogame, you absolutely should have won thousands of dollars by now. That’s just basic science.
I identified this problem back in my childhood. I eventually gained the swerve and vocabulary to go up against the computer opponents, and, more often than not, I conquered my foes with aplomb. And that felt different than defeating my dear family. In this case, I knew the computer wasn’t giving me a free ride, because AIs were incapable of deferring to the emotional needs of a small child (I would expect a bot to cheat on a toaster’s behalf, but not for a human flesh bag). So, obviously, I was legitimately winning Wheel of Fortune. Hell, I was conquering a computer. I wasn’t a random contestant beating some dork from Idaho, I was John Henry. I was Garry Kasparov. I was Zack de la Rocha… I think. Point is that I had accomplished something every time I won Wheel of Fortune, and I imagined a peripheral that looked not unlike a familiar 5 1⁄4-inch floppy disc reader that would spit out dollars upon dollars after every victory. I was winning! I should have fabulous prizes, just like those winners on TV! Where is my brand new car!?
And it sounds ridiculous, but I’m pretty sure a big problem with my generation is we’re still waiting for those fabulous prizes.
No one is claiming that people play videogames to become fabulously wealthy. Yes, there are ways you can become rich and/or famous through playing videogames, but, unless I missed some amazing advertising campaigns, the latest Animal Crossing isn’t being touted as a gateway the striking it rich on Wall Street. And such a thing sounds absurd, but consider how many activities, coaches, and “academies” are offered to children (and adults!) that claim they will transform Little Timmy into the next Bo Jackson or Madonna (are these references still relevant? I’ve been on stay-at-home orders a while). No, videogames aren’t supposed to bring you riches beyond measure, but they are supposed to bring the player satisfaction. Give or take some desert buses, there are not games designed to be impossible to be completed, and, whether you’re dealing with Dark Souls or Darkwing Duck, you will eventually gain fulfillment from seeing the finale. It is how every game ends, but it is not necessarily inevitable. You have to try to reach that finish line, and can’t simply assume you’re going to win like when you’re going up against a well-meaning pop-pop. And nowadays, it’s not a matter of “beating a game”, there are achievements, trophies, and other accolades, online and off, that showcase just how thoroughly you’ve played a game. Want 100% completion? That all-important platinum trophy? Well, get to playing, player. You’re going to have to achieve that achievement.
Admit it: if you go through all that effort for all those achievements, don’t you expect to get something?
There’s no question that people have been cultivating their Gamerscores and Trophy collections for years. There have been occasions when games were released, and they were judged (and purchased!) solely on the basis of how quickly they would allow the player to accrue achievement points. People greedily reap these achievement scores, even knowing that some of those points were distributed for “achievements” like “successfully pressed X” or “generally nudged a controller for ten minutes”. Gamers don’t do that simply for bragging rights or alike, they do that because they think somewhere deep down in their dark gamer hearts that there will be a tangible reward for their accomplishments. They secretly believe that one day a super model is going to saunter on up to the crowd, demand to know who has the most gilded trophies of them all, and then throw their clothes off in reaction to that one achievement awarded for riding a chocobo for eleven craptillion steps. Okay, yes, that sounds stupid to say out loud, but how many people actually think their videogame skills are going to have a real, profitable impact on the world? How many people think they’ve put 10,000 hours into a hobby, so, logically, all that hard work and effort is going to pay off? How many people don’t accomplish anything of value for the rest of humanity because they’re fixated on how many imaginary gamer points they can earn?
How many people think they should be millionaires that can win millions on Wheel of Fortune because they’ve already won imaginary millions on Wheel of Fortune?
You want the solution to the puzzle of my generation? Digital Wheel of Fortune ruined us all.
FGC #509 Wheel of Fortune
- System: Every. Just every system that has ever happened. There was a PSP version, and that’s my qualifier for that statement. There was even supposed to be a version for the 3DO, but it didn’t come to fruition before the system imploded. So I guess the proper statement is that Wheel of Fortune is available for all systems that weren’t instant failures.
- Number of players: Three is the generally accepted number, but two is allowed on systems that do not contain multitaps.
- So, what did you play? For the purpose of this article, I played the OG C64/DOS version, the Super Nintendo edition that happened to be handy, and the Nintendo Switch version. The Switch version may have been played with my dear fiancée during a bout of heavy, quarantine-based drinking.
- And how did that work out? Poorly! I completely failed to guess the proper solution to the following puzzle:
I am never going to gain fabulous prizes.
- So, which version is best: Man, who has the time to play thirty years’ worth of Wheel of Fortune games? Let’s just say it is whatever version is most recent, because they apparently soldered a leveling system onto its custom character creator, so now you need to win like sixty rounds before you’re allowed to wear a t-shirt. That’s modern gaming!
- Fabulous Prizes: For some reason, the vacation you can win in Switch Wheel of Fortune is always France. There’s this lovely pan of Paris, and it all looks very nice, but I would very much like to know what that country did to get featured in a videogame every ten minutes.
- Did you know? Wheel of Fortune apparently trademarked “America’s Game”. Of course, it seems they didn’t trademark it very well, because googling that phrase will get you nothing but results regarding the football game event that I’m legally not allowed to name. Rhymes with “blooper hole”.
- Would I play again: Wheel of Fortune is fun! And I’ll probably wind up playing it again on the Nintendo Super Switch U or whatever comes next. Maybe buying games I already own for five bucks over and over is the real prize.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Simpsons Arcade Game! Cowabunga, it’s time to rescue Maggie! Please look forward to it!