Lately, when I think about Kinect, Microsoft’s new piece of tech to power up their Xbox 360 and directly compete with the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation Move, the oil cans scene from The Jerk comes to mind. Except, instead of someone hating cans, they really hate buttons. Stay away from buttons!
I mean, really. What’s so wrong with pushing buttons?
Wait, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s talk about Kinect. Now, I have not experienced first hand this $150 add-on to the Xbox 360, but I’ve kept tabs on it and its plethora of games released this week, and it seems that the whole thing is rather…okay. Like, it sort of works, and when it works, it works, but other than that, this is not the spark of a revolution where gamers worldwide meet up in large fields, toss all their console controllers onto a stack of firewood, and spend the night singing hokey songs as the burdens of their past burn out a-mighty.
Right. So, Kinect is a camera, which tracks movement to turn the player into a living, breathing controller. The camera also comes with a built-in microphone to detect voice recognition. Sounds like something straight out of Minority Report. It could very well be. The point of Kinect is to introduce a new way gamers play games: hands-free. Or, rather, all about their hands. And feet. And entire body, too. You are the controller now, and you are in control. Swat at flying balls with your Xbox Live Avatar, play with pet tigers, and drive a videogame car like you would drive a real car, hands out and on the wheel.
These are all videogame tasks you could do the way it’s been for several decades, with a controller, some buttons, and thumbs. Also, sitting down. So why then is Kinect so insistent you do them without a controller? What’s so wrong with pushing buttons, anyways?
Strangely, I was never as skeptical as I am now when the Nintendo Wii came out. Sure, I didn’t really get it or fall in love with the concept, but the fact remained that, for most games, if one wanted to, one could turn the Wiimote sideways and play traditionally. I think that safety blanket was all I needed to be okay with the whole thing; and I do enjoy a couple rounds of Wii Sports, but never enough to do me in.
Back in the day, before every single game had some kind of tutorial level to teach you the basics, one had to figure out what each button did by pressing it. Hmm, how do I jump? Oh, this button. How do I run? Ahhh, hold down this one. Now, I wonder if I can run and jump for extra distance…
With Kinect, if you want your character to jump, you jump. I guess I just don’t see that as revolutionary. Or an upgrade. Pressing a button to jump is dang near a standard and, despite wonky physics at times (::ahem:: Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind ::cough::), it’s perfected as a cause/reaction happening.
I’m not here to say that controller-free gaming isn’t fun or without a purpose; I just don’t see it as better than what we have now, and I do worry that a select portion of gamers are going to be completed ignored–unless one can imagine playing an entire first-person shooter by holding an imaginary gun in our hands and pulling the imaginary trigger a thousand times over. Also, will we see an epic Kinect RPG in the future? Will there ever be a mix of things where one can play with a controller and still do Kinect-like actions, or is it gonna be all or nothing from here on out? These are important questions, and I’m not the only ones thinking about them; reviews this week have been rather mild with excitement over the tech, criticizing its space neediness and glitchy recognition, as well as the lack of depth overall in its launch titles. All of this comes at a hefty price, too–$150 to $400, depending on what one already has in stock. Others, however, seem to be enjoying Kinect Adventures and navigating the dashboard like a superbeing with a swoosh of a hand.
For as long as I can though, I’m gonna push a button.