Motion Control: Trying to get you off the couch
The following is an article I wrote for greendragoninn.us I’ll be writing console news and articles for them.
If you’ve been playing videogames long enough you’ll remember things like the Super-scope, the floor mats, and a handful of other gadgets that took the controller out of your hands and allowed you to interact with games in a different way. They were just another piece of plastic that would get tossed in a box to be forgotten in the back of the attic as soon as the fad died down. Those were console accessories that did one thing, with games built around it such as shooting at the T.V. or stomping on the floor. Even now we’re still climbing out of the mountains and mountains of plastic guitars, drums and microphones from Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Those were the plastic guns and power-gloves of this generation; they’ll be boxed and gathering dust soon enough, just like all the others that came before them. The same exact thing has happened with every console generation (we’re on the seventh, just so you know) in one way or another, and it’ll happen again when the next one comes around. That, however, might take a while.
Right now, Nintendo’s Wii 2 is the only console that has been announced. There were rumors that it would be released this year (2010), but that looks very unlikely right now. What is unusual about this situation is that, if we look at how long it has taken consoles to be developed and released, we should be hearing a lot more about the new generation already. Instead, we’re hearing a lot about motion control. Nintendo’s Wii was there first, and it was wildly successful with audiences that usually didn’t pay attention to videogames. Motion control, the ability to play games by swinging the controller around rather than pressing buttons and messing with thumb-sticks, was at the center of the Wii’s success. The Wii, although technically the weakest console, allows you to play games more naturally than the PS3 or the Xbox 360. If you’re playing a tennis game on the Wii, you swing the controller around like a racket. Now, through Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360 and Sony’s Move for the PS3, you’ll be able to do the same thing.
Microsoft and Sony revealed their motion control accessories after the Wii, with motion control out of the box, had been selling scandalously well for years. In other words, Microsoft and Sony are catching up to Nintendo, trying to get the attention of those people who didn’t really care about videogames until the Wii caught their eye. They’re trying to take a step further, but in opposite directions. The Wii has one controller per player, the PS3’s Move has two, and the Kinect has none. With Microsoft’s Kinect, you are the controller. Instead of pointing a plastic gun at the T.V., with Microsoft’s Kinect, you point your finger, just like kids did long before videogames did to one another. Microsoft is jumping on this with both feet, with more than half of the new games coming out this week focused specifically on the Kinect. The question is will we be putting the Kinect away next to the plastic guitars? If we do, it will be one of the most expensive videogame fads out there. The most expensive accessory in recent memory was the Steel Battalion controller for the Xbox, which brought the price for that one game up to $350, the price of a brand new console. The Kinect camera system will put you back $150, still quite expensive if you’re not using it a year after you bought it.
But Microsoft isn’t planning for Kinect to just go away in a year or two. They want to change the way people play games altogether, while pretending that they’re not following Nintendo’s lead. They’re trying to get you off the couch and get everyone in the family to play along with you. That’s the real intention of this new boondoggle, to get everyone who didn’t play games on the Xbox360 to get up and play. They can pretend they’re in a racecar by holding a steering wheel that isn’t there, that they’re boxing with by throwing a few punches over the coffee table, and whatever else game developers can come up with. Still, take a moment to ask yourself this: How will you play the kinds of games you used to? How will you play Halo? You can’t very well run around your living room like it’s an alien planet. Those games will have to adapt to this new fad too, if it’s going to stick around, and it might not be for the better.
In regards to Sony’s Move, we don’t really have to ask the same questions. We’ll still have controllers, with buttons that we can press and sticks we can waggle. As long as that is true, we can still laze in the couch and play games while comfortably cocooned in the cushions there, standing up when we feel like using them like a bow and arrow, pretending to be Sony’s Indian to Microsoft’s Cowboy. However, the PS3 Move may run into the same problem as every other videogame accessory has in the past. How long will it last before it’s boxed up too? Will there be games for it a year from now? How about the year after that? It’s also expensive to buy. While all the demonstrations have always involved two controllers for each player, Best Buy and GameStop sell only one controller with a $50 price-tag. So, in order to do what Sony has shown us, you’d have to spend $100, per player. That is after you’ve also bought the camera, which isn’t sold separately from the $100 dollar one-controller, camera and game bundle. So, Kinect is the cheaper option. With these prices, these gadgets aren’t so much a purchase as they are an investment, and we still can’t be sure that we’ll be using them a year from now.
Despite my reservations, I can safely say that how we play console games is changing. I don’t know how things will look in a few years; we might be using our consoles for a lot more than just playing games, or we might be waiting to buy the next generation, after having packed up all the plastic waggle sticks and cameras right next to the Nintendo Blaster and the Dance Dance Revolution mat. If history repeats itself, the Move and Kinect systems will be a couple of bullet points on a list of things nobody cares about by 2012. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo don’t intend to let that happen. Right now, all we can do is wait and see whether we’ll be playing games on the couch or off it.