I Like To Move It

I Like To Move It
I Punch the Body Electric

Brendan Main | 12 Oct 2010 12:37
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Round 3: Platform: PlayStation 2. Peripheral: EyeToy

At first glance, the EyeToy seems to be the direct precursor to more ambitious camera-based motion control technologies. However, its real contribution to motion control canon is much less obvious - it represents that exact moment when game developers began to clue in that motion control itself might not be totally rad. That, it might, in fact, be super lame. In starting up EyeToy Play, the EyeToy's inaugural bundle of mini-games, there is nary an extreme haircut teen to be seen. Instead, it shows a little old woman tottering up towards the camera, peering at it quizzically through her bifocals. I look at that grandma, and I wonder, is that supposed to be me?

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After fiddling with the focus of the camera, I take a few steps back - sure enough, there I am, projected larger than life on the screen. The EyeToy delivers immediately upon its promise to "put you into the game," because, hey, there I am. I gaze into the abyss. The abyss gazes into me.

That was Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. I'm no philosopher, but I'm pretty sure he was talking about the EyeToy.

EyeToy Play consists of a series of mini-games, and I of course choose the kung-fu one. After a moment, the screen is filled with bamboo trees and Shaolin temples. But this game is less Enter the Dragon and more Godzilla - the screen immediately fills with kung-fu fighters, each an inch high to my massive screen-filling bulk, who immediately charge at my colossal frame. I paw at one, and he goes flying, hurtling off the screen like a flicked bug.

A few dozen waves of kung-fu assailants later, I cease to be that paunchy, backlit dude in the centre of the screen. I'm a thousand foot grandma, a titanium colossus with ninja chops like gangbusters. I'm the Incredible Hulk and I know kung-fu. But pretty soon, as the prospect of prolonged physical exertion draws upon me, my five-finger-palm-techniques and eagle claw strikes begin to loosen up. I flick a guy and he goes flying. I do a little jazz hands thing and a troop scatters like leaves. I shrug, and a dragon explodes.

Having spent a day delving through ten years of motion control technology, it's that shrug that best captures the whole ordeal. From the very first attempts toward incorporating motion control in videogames, the promise was that your physical actions - punching, kicking, leaping - would translate onto the screen in an analogous and meaningful way. And that's been part of the frustration - the Power Glove works like a "glove" in no sense of the word, and the prospect of jumpkicking inside the Activator didn't even hold water in the advertisements. Even technologies that give you a chance to exert your body fully will devolve, over an afternoon's worth of play, into something more restrained and economical. That bone-shattering punch becomes a halfhearted swipe. That devastating swing becomes a limp-wristed swat. Pretty soon, every action dissolves into that basest, most gormless of all motions - the waggle.

In these punch-and-kick applications of motion control, there's the assumption of something physically fundamental - the connection between fist and flesh, between puncher and punched. Surely it's that moment that inspires these games, but it's that moment that seems hardest to nail. In trying to represent that other side, it's very easy to undermine that sensation - you lash out, and nobody's there. You strike, and it whiffs. Nothing lands, and nothing connects. Without that moment of impact, any fighting game becomes so much shadow-boxing. This may be the zen of motion control: What is the sound of one hand punching? With nothing and no one on the other side, it becomes so much grasping at air.

Brendan Main hails from the frosty reaches of Canada, where the national sport actually does involve a lot of dudes straight whomping on other dudes. He is normally a pacifist, but mama said knock you out.

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