I received news today that the Xbox Kinect has sold over ten million units, and that the Guiness Book of World Records as named it “The Fastest Selling Consumer Electronics Device.” As a core gamer I have little choice but to address this, because this could be a step backwards in the future of video games. Devices like the Kinect (and the Wii as an entire system) are not things that I like to see in the gaming industry. These devices take gaming away from the roots that have attracted me since the 80s, immersion.
What? you may ask. Isn’t using more of your body more involved than using only your hands? My answer to that question is no, absolutely not. Let me explain. For me, games are about escaping reality. They are about living in another universe. They are about being part of a world that I could never be part of. Games are an emotional experience. They are about the mind, and quite frankly, being reminded that my own body has limitations is not something I want to think about while playing a game.
I have had friends say that the ultimate video game would be the holodeck introduced in the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. A virtual reality simulator that involved all the five senses. A game like that would put the player in a seemingly real physical world, and they could interact with the world like is was reality. That sounds like a great game, right? Wrong. Think about it. You already have reality. Say you were running around a level in a holodeck game. You would actually have to physically run in order to play the game. If you’ve ever played a first person shooter, you know that all you do is run. Walking in a game is a joke, it is much too slow. Running in a holodeck would be a lot more effort than pushing a single button or moving a joystick a little. You would start panting, and the immersion would be lost when your body started complaining to your brain. And have you ever actually held a real rifle? They aren’t exactly light weight. How can you have fun like that? I’m even saying this as someone who is physically fit. I could probably run for a mile or two before getting tired, but the last thing I’d want to do is run up and down stairs, kick doors in with my feet, and jump over two foot high obstacles. That’s not immersion, that’s exercise. I’m not saying exercise is bad, some gamers probably need it, but not while playing games. (I’m not the first to say this, but let me be clear, the phrase Wii Fit is an oxymoron.)
Devices like the Kinect are a gimmick. Sure they may be fun, and they will attract buyers that aren’t really interested in hard core game play, but they could have a negative impact on the future of games. If games start requiring too much exercise and not enough involvement, people will play games less and less. Let me give an example. I own the Rock Band game. I’ll admit, it was fun to start with, and it’s a great party game, but it isn’t the type of game that I can sit down and play for hours on end. I can sit down with a mouse and keyboard and play a hard core RPG like Fallout: New Vegas for hours, and I don’t need to physically move my body to feel like I’m really in the Nevada wasteland. I get tired playing a game like that because I stayed up late, not because I was physically running around.
I’m not a complete cynic. I actually think that gimmicky devices are a good way to get converts into the gaming world. Maybe they’ll start out with a silly game like Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do and graduate to something serious like Mass Effect 2… Just maybe… Who am I kidding, if publishers forget about us hard core gamers, we could be in some serious trouble.