That is actually the question. With the recent release of some concept shots for the PS Move inviting a glut of mixed internet people reactions from the logic failing PlayStation fundamentalists’ “this is all Nintendo’s fault” to the long suffering Wii forumite’s “how do you like them apples?”, motion controls seems to be the hot topic at the moment in the internet video game blogosphere. Which reminds me, we really need a catchier name to describe that paper thin veneer of people to whom proper discussions like this might make sense. Video Game Historians a la Art Historians sounds too formal and elitist although subjectively and endlessly explicating something we are passionate about instead of doing useful things for the greater benefit of mankind are common to both ‘occupations’. Hardcore gamer isn’t correct at all either. Anyway. Onto discussions of motion controlling.
In the valley we ain’t. Recently, at least one author I respect and one, deep, no-frills douche have tried to elucidate on motion controlling as the ‘Uncanny Valley’ of interaction. Which I argue is wrong. You are probably familiar with the Uncanny Valley hypothesis, it is a favourite of online pricktards pretending to sound mildly philosophical. As I understand the unproven hypothesis, it is the idea that in robotics, as a robot approaches human likeness there is a sharp dip in familiarity (which some even go as far to say registers as disgust) when a robot appears to be ‘very’ human like. Others have hi-jacked this theory for robotics and used it in all kinds of fields and the two authors I have linked to are attempting to reinterpret the hypothesis and apply it to motion controls as the ‘Uncanny Valley of Interaction’. Both of them invoke the Uncanny Valley when describing how motion controls don’t work because your on screen presence doesn’t do what you are doing in real life. I would argue that they are over stretching to sound intellectual when in fact they mean, when motion controlling doesn’t work as they expect it to, like some kind of fucking Jetson Family Convenience, it sucks. Guys, guys, it’s okay to just call out disappointment. But does current motion controlling just generically suck because waggling is a little bit more embarrassing than pressing square and triangle or the S key?*
Because they tend to be well written, I read a lot of PC gaming blogs despite owning all of seven PC games (If you care: Darwinia, Max Payne, MDK, The Sims, Sentimental Shooting, Starcraft, Swiv, Warcraft III). A large proportion of the PC blog writers write of the Wii in statements along the lines of “Game X might be an excuse to play the Wii for a first time in over a year”, “Don’t really play it aside from sessions of Rock Band”, etc. A lot of other brands of console fanguys (including my co-author over at TGAM) often cite ‘waggling’ as a factor they just can’t get over enough to want to purchase a Wii to experience the best it has to offer. Why is the idea of waggling so dividing?
To be fair to the PC gamers, I think there is some mileage in the argument. I actively miss out on those PC classics like Out of The Park Baseball 2007 simply because I can’t stand gaming at a desk. I know indie games are great. I know that some of the best of gaming to be had comes from mods and I know that if you really care about graphics and sound you need to buy what they call a gaming-rig. But a desk? You do work at a desk. A desk is a place for staplers and tax returns. Social, couch-based gaming in the centre of the social space in the living room just feels so much better than lonely corner desk-based gaming, facing away from the social spaces and the other people in it. That and all the bullshit that comes with keeping a PC updated so it stands a chance of playing a current game. So I can appreciate that some PC gamers who played Wii Sports Tennis for ten minutes and got annoyed that Wiimote waving was very loosely translated to on-screen Mii moving, running, jumping and racket swinging decided that motion controlling isn’t worth it yet and to come back to check on it in a while. It is wrong though to equate all Wii games to waggling to not being worth it just as it is wrong to equate all PC games to downloading patches and ridiculous DRM and too much effort than it is worth.
It is also worth mentioning Sixaxis. Consider it mentioned.
Waggling, when thought about and competently implemented, becomes just as second nature as pressing the X button. I have absolutely no problem with the motion control bits (the bits beyond pointing and clicking) in Mario Kart Wii, Metroid Prime Trilogy, No More Heroes, Super Mario Galaxy, Resident Evil 4 Wii, Mario And Sonic at the Olympic Games, Wii Play, Okami, Resident Evil Chronicles series and Zack and Wiki. None of these support Wii Motion Plus yet I defy anyone to have an issue with these because they couldn’t get the motion controls to work properly. I would also pity the fool who misses out on all of the above just because they don’t want to waggle or worse, because the waggle action has nothing to do with what happens on screen (I think this is where the uncanny valley stuff comes in). In fact, waggling adds the extra element in that it is quite easy to be pressing buttons on the Wiimote, nunchuk as well as waggling. No other system currently allows for such easy multiple inputs without severe discomfort or RSI.
On that note, it will be interesting to see how Natal fares, especially if it does address the ‘Uncanny Valley of interaction’ problem. One of the reasons that many games are fun is because you don’t have to do everything as you would in real life. Imagine your journey into work this morning; leaving the house, locking the door, walking to the bus stop, crossing the road, buying a ticket, getting on the bus, sitting down, sending a text message, waiting for your stop, etc. etc. Pretty fucking boring necessity. Now imagine the AAA game “Your Journey To Work”. Which one would you prefer to play:
a) Your Journey To Work (PS2). All the boring stuff is cut and 90% of your journey is done through a short series of cutscenes. The only bit you play is an interesting conversation with a man at the bus stop, controlled through a dialogue tree.
b) Your Journey To Work (Wii). Your character moves automatically but you have to use the pointer and the Wiimote to make sure you give over your ticket at the right time, lock the door properly etc.
c) Your Journey To Work (Natal). Essentially you move exactly how you would on your real Journey To Work, except you don’t actually go anywhere.
To be honest with you I’d probably go for ‘A’, maybe ‘B’ but ‘C’ seems like a waste of time. Of course, ‘Your Journey To Work’ will never be made as a game because Christ would it be dull (although GTA4, the Sims, Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon and Heavy Rain all have these ‘am I having fun?’ elements). The point is that I don’t think gamers want this 1 to 1 motion and action kind of gaming and I don’t think they’ll get it but it does put some of Crecente’s and other Wii-dissent-by-default-comments into a much needed perspective. If waggling alone is bad enough for some gamers imagine playing through that first level of Medal of Honor Frontline except you literally have to run up the beach yourself and manually reload every time and crouch to crouch etc. Playing driving games on manual is more realistic but chorish, playing FPS games on manual would quickly become as boring as Your Journey To Work with the odd fun ‘headshot’. This is before we start to think about how you turn around in Natal FPS or how ‘The Uncanny Valley of Interaction’ is compatible with abstract games. So, the big question is, well what do you do with motion gaming then?
Sony’s PS Move ‘concept art’ is one answer to that question and that is, “What they did, but steriler**”. I’m interested to see how Natal pans out, but I imagine it’s going to be along the same lines as Sony’s Move, initially at least. This means remixes of the best of Eye Toy and the best of the Nintendo Wii games. It’ll take someone with a strong history of innovation like Bungie to do something that breaks the mould and then it will be copied over and over again. One great advantage with Natal is that because it uses the body, the controller inputs are no longer restricted to relatively simple tasks like “move forward”, “jump forward” or “jump left and shoot”. Pulling off a “move, strafe, crouch, lean, shoot, punch, smile” simultaneously could really change the way games are played, not to mention significantly challenge the way AI enemies are programmed. But as anyone who has spent time with Wii Fit will know, THIS IS EXHAUSTING. Five minutes in Mario’s shoes would leave the fittest of health freaks wheezing. Will there be a new divide in gamers like the theoretical hardcores vs casuals based on fitness levels perhaps?
* We reckon there are a slew of gamers annoyed with waggling because their flabby, shakey bodies cannot replicate the split second no-scoping that their agile digits can with a mouse or analog sticks. Sucky bodies!
** We’re being unfair here.