Stop Twiddling Your Thumbs and Stand Up

Jun 15, 2010
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Stop Twiddling Your Thumbs and Stand Up

Originally, I wanted to title this story "Why Women Hate Consoles," but I'm sure there are many women who would take exception to that complaint. I'm not married to one of those women. My wife hates console gaming. She doesn't just hate playing games on my Xbox or Playstation, she hates when I play them, too. For a while, I couldn't figure out why.

[Image credit Reinis Traidas]

It's not the content. She likes action movies, though for some reason she has an aversion to people getting punched in the face. She doesn't mind an hour of machine gun fire, but one punch to the face and I know she already hates the movie. Sometimes she laughs at the silly scripts or the cheesy sound effects, but that's not what makes her detest console games.

A couple years ago, she took an interest in one game and asked if I would buy it for us. Dance Dance Revolution. Not my cup of tea, but I jumped at the opportunity to include her, and I bought the game plus two deluxe foam pads. We played it for a while, but the menu system was fairly difficult to deal with, and the songs get old pretty quickly, so she lost interest. We've moved house twice since I last set up the game pads.

That was my first clue. My second came after she visited a friend who showed her the Wii console. She was intrigued. Not enough to give me the green light on a big purchase, but this gave me my second clue. I told her my theory and she completely agreed. Here's why my wife hates consoles:

Imagine me, a console gamer. I'm sitting on the couch, hunched forward a bit because I'm engaged. There's tons of action on screen, loud explosions from all sides of my 5.1 surround setup, people screaming and rockets firing. There's music playing and little British girls with creepy voices. Lots going on, and I'm sitting there literally twiddling my thumbs. Sometimes my index fingers jerk wildly, but mostly I'm just flicking at buttons with my thumbs. I might lean left or right, but the most action you'll see is when I throw the controller across the room in a rage.

It's the controller. That controller is the most unappealing part of gaming. I love a good controller. I love instinctively knowing what all 10 buttons, two joysticks and the D-pad will do when I press them. I have a NeGcon controller for my Playstation and it's a marvel of design. I've always wanted a Steel Battalion controller, but I'm not into mecha games. To my wife, however, I'm hunched over on the couch twiddling my thumbs.

New gamers and casual gamers feel the same way. Sure they might play games on their computer, but a keyboard and mouse are familiar and necessary evils for anyone who works behind a desk. But hand them a Dual Shock 3 and they get confused and frustrated. They could learn, sure, and that learning curve might pay off. But if you hand someone a Wiimote instead, they get it right away.

I'm suspicious of the hardcore gamers who are dismissive of motion gaming. Games are an art form, now more than ever, and I'm sure hardcore gamers feel less impressed by games that lack the depth and polish of the best controller-based titles. But part of the art of video games is the physical relationship between the gamer and the action on screen. I think controllers have been doing us a disservice in more ways than one.

A Yoga game on the Nintendo Wii is not interesting enough to get me off the couch. I'm not getting up to strum a guitar (or even a keytar). However, I might stand up to swing a lightsaber, or fire off a Hadouken. So far, motion games haven't appealed much to me, but I can imagine plenty of concepts where that could change. And that would make all the difference.

It's time to put down the controllers. Controllers don't make intrinsic sense for gaming any more than a keyboard and mouse makes sense. The controller doesn't properly express the relationship between the player and the action on screen. I play games where the subject is slashing through monsters in a dungeon or hiding behind rubble to avoid being shot at by angry lizard monsters from beneath the earth. Why am I twiddling my thumbs?

It's time to get up and start moving those arms. Jump around. Duck for cover behind the couch. I think casual gamers have had it right all along. We hardcore types have been playing with a bad hand. We've been using a paintbrush for sculpting when we really need a blowtorch and a sledgehammer. I like games enough that I'll live with the controller if the rest of the experience is good, but I don't think controllers are long for this world.

I've heard an argument against motion gaming, and motion computing as a whole, that I think is plain silly. If you use a touchscreen desktop machine like an HP Touchsmart, for a long time, your arms get tired. The first week with a Wii and you might feel some aches and pains. I even remember warnings about health risks for sedentary gamers who now find themselves up and swinging a tennis racket or punching in the air. Can we agree that this is the worst possible argument against motion gaming? Good, let's move on.

The problem with motion gaming so far has been that Nintendo is its only true champion, but that will hopefully change this year. Nintendo can produce some quality first party titles, but the company doesn't offer a wide range of gaming experiences. Because of the initial humdrum response to the Wii before launch, the biggest third-party development houses, like Electronic Arts, didn't start developing games until the console was already a best seller. Even still, there is a perception that Wii gamers are more casual. Because it's more economical for the big houses to develop for multiple platforms at once, the Wii got the short end of the stick with few innovative titles that take advantage of the motion experience.

I have the most hope for Microsoft's Kinect device. I like that it's not tied to a specific controller, but rather it's the player's body that controls the action. Nintendo Wii controllers can get very expensive when you buy enough to supply a small group. I have no doubt Sony's Playstation Move will be even more expensive, as is the way with Sony products. It would be nice if the industry could use a common standard, and I think the controller-free Kinect is the best for consumers and developers. The Kinect will eventually work with Windows PCs, too, which makes it even more enticing.

There will be a place for the console controller for a long time, but its days are numbered. It was never that great to begin with, but gamers were talented enough to master the controls and immerse themselves in the game anyway. Some day our kids will look back and wonder what we were doing, sitting on the couch and twiddling our thumbs. Then they'll scream and jump behind the couch for cover as the Locust horde opens fire.


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