Today Nintendo announced Labo, an initiative that will pair the company’s playful software with easy-to-assemble cardboard accessories. The idea taps into the growing DIY space, the reveal trailer specifically targeting children and parents who want their games to be a bit more experiential and tangible.
Labo appears, at first blush, to be an inspired idea, one that reflects Nintendo’s longstanding desire to get players off the couch. But what I appreciate more than any single game or contraption in the trailer is the top-level decision to build the initiative around cardboard.
The obvious reasons for Nintendo to go with cardboard are that it’s cheap, easy to mass produce and simple to distribute. The bonus: the controllers won’t spend the back half of their existence filling landfills.
In the mid- to late- 2000s, the video game industry saw a boom in plastic accessories alongside the popularity of music games like Rock Band, Guitar Hero and DJ Hero. Before that, the industry pushed plastic fishing rods, steering wheels and mech cockpits, each re-imagined as specialty video game controllers.
From an archivist perspective, the solid materials have helped these game controllers maintain a legacy. But the vast majority of peripherals ultimately move to dumps and the Salvation Army, not museums or private collections.
The choice of cardboard peripheral acknowledges the true identity of Labo: they’re toys. They’re cheap and malleable, meant to be used and disposed of. Those aren’t pejoratives. They are opportunities. Owners will be free to modify, decorate and use the contraptions without the preciousness associated with more expensive and permanent hardware.
The Labo designs are inherently novel, which is a kind way to say they will likely last long enough to entertain their owner until the next cardboard contraption appears. And when they’re gone entirely, they will gradually decompose, making way for whatever comes next.