Do you guys remember the EyeToy? It was a camera you could plug into your PS2 that could detect movement and translate that to a game. It brought us such classics as AntiGrav and… I’m sure there were others. Probably.
Anyway, that was more than a decade ago. In the time since the technology we use for video game motion controls has gotten significantly better. We have the Kinect, the PS Move, and, of course, the Wii and all of its dazzling paraphernalia. All of them work to greater or lesser degrees. The majority of them, at least the ones that have a modern generation equivalent, are remarkably popular.
So why do we like them so much? I mean hey, if you’re reading this you’re probably a serious gamer. Or at least serious enough to go looking for articles on the subject. And we serious gamers, not to perpetuate stereotypes, don’t tend to be the most outdoorsy and athletic types. As a general rule.
Yet we came out in droves to get all these movement based… things. My family got a Wii, a bunch of exciting motion games, even the Wii Fit. I had Kinect on the 360 and kept it with the One. I had the Move for the PS3 and if they make one or have already made one for the PS4, I’ll probably get it at some point. I think. Maybe.
I know I’m not the only one. If you’re reading this I can pretty much guarantee you’ve bought at least one of those things if not more. And why? What draws us to all this movement and motion?
To answer that we have to look at why people play games in the first place. Now that is a very complicated and diverse topic. The simple answer, and the one that basically applies to everybody, is that video games are a form of escapism. Whether we play for a cathartic release or to experience an artistic medium, we’re playing games to remove ourselves briefly from our own world and experience a world that doesn’t, and often couldn’t, exist.
Motion controls, then, should feel like a fairly obvious extension of that premise. When we play games we want to be immersed in them. What better way to be immersed than by actually doing the things your character is on screen? I don’t want to just have my character go running and jumping through a forest. Iwant to actually run and jump through a forest. I don’t want to play as a jedi dashing around killing droids with a lightsaber. I want to BE a jedi dashing around killing droids with a lightsaber.
No, a Kinect will not actually make me such a thing. But it will certainly get me closer than a controller will.
It’s the simple act of immersing into escapism. You stand there doing all of these fun little things, acting wild and silly and active and it’s all just so exciting. Sometimes it’s even just small things, like in Alien: Isolation. It’s a first person horror game, and you have the option of tilting your head from side to side to peek around corners. That’s just fricking cool.
Let Me Tell You Why You Like Non-Movement Based Games More
…movement based games haven’t truly taken off, not really. I mean sure, there’s a million different Just Dances and half as many Wii Fit variants. Dance Central, every sports game known to man, bowling out the wazoo.
What else really is there? Other than the odd, heavily themed but mostly unsuccessful game like Star Wars: Kinect, where the game is built entirely around the motion controls but in a method more advanced than simple mini-games, (a concept that hopefully won’t make it to titles like Assassin’s Creed) there’s not a lot out there.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all the sports and extreme white water rafting and endless amounts of dancing. But there comes a point where you realize, this is pretty much it. Until the technology gets EVEN better, we’ve pretty much hit the peak. Motion controls just aren’t where they need to be in order to pull off more complicated games, or to add significant features to otherwise serious games.
The latter of which, is a serious issue. There’s a lot of reasons integrating motion controls in small but meaningful ways into games that use a regular controller for everything else would be great. For example, you could make a throwing motion while playing an FPS to toss the grenade, instead of hitting the button. The problem is that this is harder than just pressing the button, and in most games, that difference is going to matter.
Not to mention, it gets tiring. This was perhaps the fatal flaw of Mad World, a brutal and inexplicably adult hack and slash game for the Wii. In the game players take on the role of Jack and fight through a massive and incredibly gory gladiatorial arena. You use motion controls to feel visceral joy as you rend your opponents and leave their entrails splattered across the walls. Which sounds awesome, and is awesome, at first. But then a horrible realization sets in.
Pressing X to slash is easy. You can do it thousands of times without caring. But waggle to slash? Every attack in the game is delivered via a particular Wii motion. When you think about how often during a game you have to slash in a hack and slash style game, you begin to realize how unfortunate that is. I mean sure, I like the idea of waving the remote to attack, but when I have to do it hundreds of times every hour? I’m going to get tired, and frankly so would you. Even if you didn’t get tired, you’d get sore, and you’d stop having fun pretty quick.
That’s kind of the rub of motion controls. They’re just not efficient. And, they don’t actually succeed at what they set out to do. You remember earlier when I talked about escapism and immersion? Well motion controls, despite what you might think, really don’t help with that at all.
Consider this: when we play a game, we are living vicariously through the abilities and story of a character in the game. We want them to do exactly what we want, because we want to be them. We want the transition of our thoughts to their actions to be as seamless as possible.
When motion controls are involved, this becomes a several step process. We first decide our actions, then think them, then move, then the game detects our movement, then it inputs it into the game. That’s a lot of steps, and it takes a long time. The whole process can often take as long as second. That might not seem like much, but when every action you take lags a second behind your thoughts, it adds up fast. Suddenly you’re half a minute behind or even just dead. Because motion controls just aren’t efficient. They don’t do a good job translating our thoughts instantly to the character in the game.
You know what does though?