Couch-potato Gaming Goes the Way of the Dinosaur
We all know the stereotype. Gamers are the people who sit on their couches wearing pajamas and a wife-beater covered in Cheeto-colored fingerprints, chugging Mountain Dew and trying to get all the achievements in whatever game currently happens to be keeping them from getting a job. They live with their mothers, are grossly overweight, smell bad, have no prospects in life.
Okay, now that THAT’S out of our system, gamers are actually nothing like that. But it IS a stereotype, and there’s something to it. Gaming, for a very long time, was a completely stationary activity. True, it began in the arcades, where you actually had to stand up (and in the case of TRON, ride in an insanely cool digital motorcycle thing…), but with the release of the NES, you had a handy-dandy little controller that allowed you to plop your rear end down on your grandma’s saran-wrapped sofa and play to your heart’s content. But today’s a different world. Most arcade games have quite a bit of movement integrated into them, like pressing pedals, pointing guns, steering cars, punching the screen when you lose… but even the consoles we have at home are getting our butts in action. Where did it begin? Whose fault is it that I can’t just laze about while gaming?
Konami, mostly. The idea that movement could be used to make a cooler gaming experience wasn’t exactly a NEW idea at the time that Konami produced Dance Dance Revolution… but DDR brought it home. It was an absolute craze that began when I was just going into middle school. I remember going up to Tahoe and in the arcade… there was a guy. DANCING. ON A VIDEO GAME. Blew my mind. (It should be noted that this was not the awkward DDR dancing, like “Left up right right down up left!” kind of stuff… he was jumping over the bar and spinning around and stuff. Must’ve had way too much free time.) So I bought a dance pad, took DDR home to play on my own time. Burned a whole ton of calories. The games just kept getting better, and even now, Dance Dance Revolution is still a household name. They have DDR tournaments. There is a DDR weight-loss program. A DDR spinoff TV show. In Norway, Machine Dance has been registered at some universities as an actual sport. Frickin’ Norwegians, with their salted fish, fjords, and DDR sporting events.
Having said that, there is a delightful little thing called “StepMania,” an open-source DDR clone, that, well… you sit at your computer desk and play with your fingers. Way to defeat the purpose of the frickin’ game, geniuses! Download it here, because it’s fun.
Now, of course, the next company to really jump on the moving-video-game bandwagon was Nintendo, when they released the Wii almost 6 years ago. It featured, instead of a controller, an accelerometer-and-optical-sensor-filled wireless device that made it possible to imitate the motions of practically anything that has a handle, from a sword to a tennis racket to a fishing pole to a golf club. The Wii, regardless of what you think about its graphical or processing capabilities, or its game selection, revolutionized gaming. It changed the way we thought about gaming, and how games could be played. It allowed us to have an interesting, multiplayer gaming experience while standing up and moving, not sitting on a couch button-mashing. The Wii’s power was in its novelty, and apparently that’s exactly what the world was looking for. It attracted millions of people who had never thought to buy a console before. The sales of the Wii outstripped the Xbox-360 and the PS3 by nearly 30 million units. Nintendo also marketed it brilliantly, as the game that came with the Wii was WiiSports, which showcased all of the awesome crap that the WiiMote could do, and was strongly geared towards the multiplayer experience, something that the Xbox360 and PS3 also were kind of awful at originally. And it only got better with the release of the WiiFit.
The WiiFit is a balance board which can sense weight, motion, and weight distribution. It came with its own game, which was primarily designed to help make people more aware of their bodies and get in shape. If you had told the designers of the original NES that something like this would be around a short 20 years in the future, they probably would have flipped out. The very purpose of gaming, now, is to help you get in shape and have better balance. It was easy to use it every day, there were a TON of different activities, and you could set calorie goals to achieve during your workout. Everything from snowball fights to yoga to pushup-plank exercises (which were AWFUL, by the way) was included. It is also one of the top-selling video games in history, shipping just over 22 million copies. Apparently, movement sells.
Now, the next generation (which is really no better than the Wii, they were just a little bit slow out of the gate) is the Kinect for Xbox. It is Wii-mote-less, and kicks some serious rear-end. It’s a motion-sensing piece of technology that requires absolutely no controls whatsoever, sensing your body’s motions and voice commands. Now, the upside is that you don’t have this klunky Wii-mote sticking around in your pocket whenever you’re trying to run someplace. The downside is that whenever you’re golfing or using your lightsaber, there’s nothing in your hand that you’re swinging. Also, another downside: it’s kind of creepy how you can just TELL IT what to do! I feel like if you said “Xbox, get me some pizza,” it would hack into some computer mainframe, launch an unmanned drone that would hotwire a pizza delivery truck, kidnap its driver, and get you your pizza in less than 30 minutes (or your money back: guaranteed!). The little Wii-Fit guy is cute and harmless. Xbox Kinect seems like one step below Skynet.
Now, the question about all of this is: where is it going to go in the future? Is motion just the next fad? Will we all be back to our couches 5 years from now? I honestly don’t think so! The concept of motion in games is something that hasn’t been exhausted, it hasn’t been fully explored! What about motion in handheld games? There have been a couple games (like WarioWare) that used motion-sensor technology, but it hasn’t been perfected. And with the future release of the Wii-U, it looks like they’re taking it to the next level, and opening up a lot more options for motion-based play.
Personally, I’m excited for the future. Maybe one day there will be an app where I can write my blogs while standing up and doing jumping jacks. Or something.
P.S. Couch-potato gaming hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaur. But it was a catchier title than “Motion in Video Games.” It sounds like a research paper done by someone who spent their childhood playing Minesweeper.