Motion is one of those things you take for granted until it isn’t there. Being human beings with built-in motion sensors (in your ears), hardwired tactile response feedback (nerve endings in your skin) and factory standard panoramic 3D displays (your bright, shining eyes), we’re so attuned to the myriad sensory inputs and fine control over everything we do that being presented with an occasion in which we’re tasked with replicating those motions and gestures of everyday life sans even one of these responses can be jarring and uncomfortable.
Take, for example, Tony Hawk’s Ride. 2009’s skateboard game and peripheral met with tepid response from fans and critics alike, not because it was a bad skating game, but because playing it with the skateboard peripheral device was an inherently un-fun experience and nothing at all like the actual physical activity both game and peripheral were created to mimic.
When one skates, one has one or two feet planted on a skinny, wobbly wooden board on wheels. One feels the grinding of the pavement under those wheels. One feels the way that board tilts in response to one’s movements. One feels the air blowing past one’s skin. One sees the road ahead and can feel the effect of one’s continual effort to remains balanced in one’s inner ear. Yes, ostensibly, skating is about shredding, pulling mad tricks and impressing one’s friends, but it is also about motion.
The Ride peripheral, on the other hand, is a static piece of plastic sitting on the floor of your living room seemingly designed by someone with a mind to remove the art of skating about as far as one possibly can from the real thing and still be able to call it “skating.” It is as motionless as a stone and as responsive as a brick covered in mud. Playing with it, one feels less like one is actually skating than one is attempting a yoga pose.
As someone who has tried multiple times and failed to actually skate, I can’t be too hard on Ride. I once played the part of a skateboarding serial killer in an independent film, for example, and had to use a body double for the skating parts. But I’ve skated enough to know what it should feel like and why someone who wants to skate plays a skating game instead. After all, skating is not flying spaceships. Chances are, if you want to stand on a board, you can. So it’s hard not to judge Ride for where it fails to hit the mark of being something anyone would want to use. The good news is Ride has plenty of company.
The problem with motion-based gaming as a whole is exactly where any given game will fit in this still un-defined space between simulation and fun. The question that has to be answered is: “Why do people play a certain game?” There are plenty of games about space marines, but try and get a group of people together for a real life session of laser tag or paintball, and it becomes very clear very quickly that “playing” at space marine is about as far as most people are likely to want to go.
Have you ever run around for a half hour carrying more than 30 pounds of weapons and/or gear? I have. The first thing you notice is that your body does not enjoy the experience. The second thing is how hard it is to aim straight when you’re puking in the dirt after exceeding the limit of your cardio training. Add in the adrenaline-induced effects of being shot at and the whole experience rapidly red shifts into the “do not want” spectrum.
It’s OK, though, because we don’t expect our shooters to be hard simulations. Other games we do, however, and a huge market is now exploding to capitalize on that demand. Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s Move are both poised to try to steal as much of your holiday dollars as they can this year by filling your stocking with games that are trying to be simulations. How successful they will be depends in large part on how well they match the abilities of their devices to the demands of the consumer.
Here’s my tip: Watch where Ride landed and avoid that spot.