Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Out of Controls

Press X to scratch ass/eat chicken/shoot.

I'd love to take credit for this one, but this musing stems from a comment made by one of my friends on facebook:

"Just had a thought: Have you felt that games, as they've been getting more and more complex, have made players more aware that they are pressing a button? I just recalled that, when I played Mega Man X, I wasn't pressing a button, I was making X shoot. Now I play stuff like WoW or even a console game like Ninja Gaiden, I don't feel that I'm making the character swing their sword, that I'm aware I'm hitting a button to make them perform said action."

Sure, it's not the first time that I've thought of the sort of dynamic that goes on between a player and a game persona that they are controlling, but it is a something that made me stop and think. After some reflection I found myself agreeing with the comment on multiple fronts. The first thought that popped into my mind, and what I basically replied with, was how in games like World of Warcraft high level players almost had to view the game as a flow of macros, cool downs and dps. It wasn't "oh man, my mage just cast an awesome spell and really rocked that battle" it's more like "I'm only averaging 415 dps, so I need to retool my equips and skills if I'm going to be keeping up for the rest of the raid."

From there it also didn't take me long to start in on the motion controls as well. I've always had a sore-spot regarding such things, but until a couple of weeks ago I couldn't really put it into anything concise; that ended when about a month ago Extra Credits talked a little about the state of Kinect in which the term "Kinesthetic Projection" was introduced. If you don't want to watch the video the term Kinesthetic Project refers to how if you're familiar with a tool you can in some cases begin to think of it as an extension of yourself. The example Extra Credits uses is how a person will say "I'm turning left" in a car rather then saying "I'm going to turn the wheel left which will make the car go around the corner"; basically you view the car as an extension of your being.

The same thing happens with video games. When you really get into the flow of things it honestly feel like the controller just falls away. It's your will that is moving the character on-screen, not your hands or that keyboard or dualshock or anything else. Extra Credits called Kinect the "uncanny valley" of controls, and I'm highly inclined to agree. To put it another way, I honestly think that motion controls, at least as they stand at the moment, actually break some fundamental part of the willing suspension of disbelief when it comes to playing a game. A controller is something that I grew up with, I've known it for years, I can accept what it does and what it doesn't do. Motion controls though, they only make me realize that my inept flailing pretty much results in a lot of the same, and when it doesn't it's just disconcerting.

Like I said though, it isn't just motion controls. We laugh at a picture like this one:

And yet, can I honestly say that this is much more complex then some of the control schemes we currently use? The answer is no, I cannot. I know that we have to do more in games now then ever before, and that requires work, but at the same time the more we add in some cases the further away we get from being able to achieve that moment of gaming zen when we do a little Neo impression and go "there is no controller".

1 comment:

  1. I must say I've always felt aware I was using buttons, though I also always equate buttons with manipulating my avatar somehow, despite differences between say making Mario jump and my WoW character chart channeling Arcane Missiles.

    But that's just me.


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