By Alex Kierkegaard / January 7, 2017
I’ve been meaning to write this essay since the Wii days, believe it or not. Actually, those who’ve been paying attention to the titles of forthcoming Videogame Culture essays on the sidebar of existing ones should be easily able to believe it, because “The Motion-sensing Dead-end” has been sitting there provocatively for years. I didn’t just figure all this stuff out now, is what I am saying: I’ve had it figured since the Wii arrived and flooded the market with shitty motion-sensing games that very few played, none of whom actually enjoyed them. And yet here we are, over a full decade later, and no one’s learned their lesson. If anything, everyone seems to have learned the opposite lesson, because instead of one shitty motion-sensing controller and a handful of games for it we now have so many controllers and so many games being designed for use with them that the situation has gone from a mild illness to pandemic status. It’s time, in other words, for icycalm to step in and bring some sense to the debate.
So players and pundits today are generally divided into two camps, both of which are very, very wrong in their visions of the future. The first camp is the VR deniers, who say this stuff won’t work because stupid reasons, and the second camp is the VR enthusiasts, who say this stuff will work because yet more stupid reasons. The VR deniers are very easy to refute. Anyone who’s ever read or watched science fiction artworks requires no refutation of them; the idea that the control pad and the monitor are the last word in videogame hardware interfaces is simply laughable to such a person, and can only be taken seriously by crippled autistic child-fagots who view life as a disease and Super Mario World as art’s crowning achievement. So there’s nothing to analyze here; to merely bother speaking to such people proves that you are one of them, and thus as much of a non-entity and lost cause as they are.
And then there are the VR enthusiasts, who mindlessly lap every new development up and want to convince us that running around the streets carrying a laptop on your back and not being able to tell where the fuck you are going is what thousands of people will be doing while playing videogames in the future. This is also a retarded notion, but one which is worth analyzing and refuting in some detail.
So first of all, understand that healthy mature adults do NOT want to MOVE while playing videogames. Like, you want me to come home after four hours of surfing or six of playing basketball and MOVE? And that's on top of several three-hour strength workouts a week. My week is so full of physical exertion that there are exercises I want to do but can't because I have no energy left for them. So I sure as hell am not going to load my schedule up with running about in a Far Cry game. I would rather add cycling instead, but I can't because I don't have any energy left for it, so I have to prioritize my physical activities, and since surfing and basketball are much more enjoyable to me than cycling, I rarely ever cycle, even though I have a 1,500-euro carbon fibre racing bike sitting in the corner of my living room and I live in Tenerife, the kind of island which people like Lance Armstrong visit when they are training themselves up for competition. So, I don't want to move while playing a videogame. I play videogames precisely to relax from moving around too much. By the time I am sat down to play a videogame I have no energy left with which to move. And that’s why I am sitting down goddammit!
Of course, the kind of autistic shut-in child-fagot troglodytes that dominate discourse about games on the internet have the opposite concern: they don’t want to move in videogames because they don’t want to move, EVER, and that’s whom Nintendo’s Wii Fit board was marketed towards. So you see, it is quite possible for the highest and lowest individuals to agree, but for opposite reasons, which means that we do NOT agree, and never will. And then you have everyone else, who stands somewhere between us, and whose view of the situation is therefore a type of hybrid of my and the shut-ins’ views. When I explained some of the above to a reader and friend recently, for instance, he replied dubiously with “Hmm, that makes sense”, with the “Hmm” denoting that he’s not really sold on my analysis because his physical training regime is much milder than mine, and, as a consequence, he doesn’t mind doing some running and flailing about in his videogames since he does have the energy for it, or wouldn’t mind scaling back on physical activities to make room for it, which I WOULD mind, because my taste in physical activities is just as elevated as my taste in everything else, and the idea of trading in an hour of surfing for an hour of mere jogging in a Far Cry game is utterly repugnant to me. But of course, those who don’t surf have a hard time seeing much of an issue here, and can only be brought to a mild understanding of my viewpoint via means of lengthy analyses such as the one you are currently reading.
In videogames, then, we want to AMPLIFY movement — that is our goal here. So that if I move my finger, Marcus Fenix cuts a Locust in half. We don't want to do the OPPOSITE, which is cut something in half in real life so that a few pixels on a screen will change color. How can you not see that that would be RETARDED? It’s like all those morons who spend years playing those stupid music games, putting untold hours into mastering a dozen songs on a guitar controller instead of learning REAL guitar, which is not at all harder to learn and on which you can play ALL GUITAR SONGS EVER WRITTEN instead of just a dozen, and to a far greater degree of fidelity. But I will talk at length about this phenomenon and disease in the upcoming Guitar Freaks essay; the point you should take away from this for now is that guitar controllers are motion sensing interfaces too, and whoever uses them is a moron precisely because these devices simulate everyday, banal activities that are so easy to perform in real life that the idea of simulating them can only ever appeal to complete and utter morons.
VR versus Motion-sensing
What you need to do then, to start grasping what the hell’s going on here, is to disentangle VR in your minds from motion sensing. VR, in the form of headsets, is a new thing (at least workable VR, because there have been older but unsuccessful versions), while motion-sensing is an old thing, a very old thing indeed — far older than the Wii even. VR doesn’t need motion-sensing to succeed — indeed, as I’ll be explaining in an upcoming essay, the success of these two enterprises is ultimately mutually exclusive — and motion sensing doesn’t need VR anymore than the thousands of flight simulators or racing games or light gun games throughout the decades have needed it, all of which relied on motion sensing to an extent for ideal performance.
I am in fact a huge advocate of motion sensing WHEN IT CAN BE DONE WITH 1:1 CORRESPONDENCE; i.e. when the motion the player performs is more or less identical with the one his avatar does. I would never for example dream of playing a flight sim without a stick, a racing game without a wheel, a light gun game without a light gun. But a 1:1 Street Fighter motion-sensing game? You want me to attempt to pull off in my living room Guile’s moveset, which doesn’t even make mechanical sense? Which defies even the laws of fucking physics? If I could do those moves I wouldn't need the game! And SF and Guile are even some of the most tame examples of the genre I could give. Let’s not even get into the Guilty Gears and the Arcana Hearts! (which are the best games, by the way, precisely because they are the wildest, most imaginative ones). It’s no wonder that when motion sensing companies want to demonstrate the “full power” of their products (read: their full stupidity) they bring in frigging acrobats and gymnasts! Otherwise you’d get a fagot hopping on the spot while Guile did somersaults on screen, and the only conclusion that the viewer would be able to reach after the demonstration would be that everyone involved in it is mentally retarded — exactly as happened with the Wii’s shit.
Or think of a game in which you fly. A jetpack game like Gun Valkyrie. What are the devs gonna do, insist that you buy a jetpack and go to the park to play the game? And the wilder the game, and the cooler the stuff you do in it, the more absurd the demands required to play it in 1:1 motion-sensing become. I mean, what about a space-based zero-g game? They’ll tell you to go to space? Or hire an airliner set up as an experimental zero-g environment? This shit’s retarded, G!
So all the coolest things you can do in videogames become impossible when you demand 1:1 motion-sensing input from the player. Forget about Hong Kong-style actions scenes, backflips and cartwheels and jumping off buildings onto the backs of moving trucks. How the hell are you gonna set all that up in your living room? The most you can achieve is some retard-level shit where hopping on the spot stands in for Assassin’s Creed parkour moves; but it will be as unsatisfying as the original Wii motion controls were, which weren’t 1:1 either. That’s why no decent games were made for use with the Wii remote, or no games at all, nearly.
In fact even simple walking is impossible with 1:1 correspondence beyond a couple of feet. Take the famous walk in Silent Hill 2. Unless your lounge is the size of a football field — and utterly devoid of any objects — the only way to simulate this walk in 1:1 motion sensing is to go round and round your room in circles. Now isn’t the whole point of motion-sensing to increase immersion? And wouldn’t going round and round your room in circles while your avatar in the game followed a straight path be detrimental to that objective? Indeed, since with the controller you would be pressing the stick in a single direction, mimicking the essence of the action your avatar would perform, the controller would be more immersive than the motion-sensing setup!
Bottom line is that one of the simplest motion sensing moves — mere walking — is impossible to properly simulate with 1:1 motion sensing, which is where yet more bizarre motion controls like treadmills or laptops in backpacks come in. But they too still suck if you spend but a few moments properly thinking about them. For ok, let’s say you solved the walking problem, what about running or jumping or crawling under objects or crouching next to them? Not to speak of more involved stuff like climbing or sliding down a hillside, for example. So if you persist with your futile efforts for 1:1 motion sensing, all games that will adhere to it will end up being extremely physically mundane. Forget about Assassin’s Creed; even a Far Cry or a Just Cause would be impossible to pull off, with their hangglider rides or parachute dives (which are precisely the coolest parts of the games!), or swimming lol, etc. (“Just flood your living room with water”, it said on the back of the box, officer.) So either future Far Crys and Just Causes will have to tone down significantly their excitement, essentially KILLING OFF those games, or the only types of games playable in genuine 1:1 will be artfag walking simulators that last a couple hours (more walking that that would be decried as “hardcore” by the artfags); i.e., in both cases, games that players with good taste will regard contemptuously while continuing to play and to support the Far Crys and Just Causes with traditional controls which we got into videogames to play in the first place.
Meanwhile, the motion-sensing enthusiasts will be outdoors with their laptops in their backpacks trying to find an open space in which to play their glorified walking simulators. Perhaps a forest or something. But there are trees getting in your way there too! I guess a desert would be the best environment for this stupid shit; the arid environment a perfect match for the arid art design philosophy that engendered their stupid games. May all the artfags and moronic “indies” of the world go there and get lost and die a stupid death, as far as I am concerned, amen!
Think of it this way too. Which genres have been the most successful motion sensing genres in the history of videogames? Flight sims and racing games, of course. And why? Because all these games simulate real-world activities in which the person performing them IS SITTING DOWN. So in order to achieve 1:1 motion sensing correspondence in these types of games, all you need is a stick or a wheel and some pedals, and so on; i.e. stuff that works fine on a desk or even in a couch, with some modifications. And light gun games work so well precisely because the walking part IS NOT SIMULATED, because it CAN’T be simulated with 1:1 correspondence!
So 1:1 motion sensing increases immersion through the roof, but it HAS to be 1:1! Anything less than that, and you may as well use conventional controls, which are more efficient under those circumstances because they have been designed to require a MINIMUM amount of motion, and which therefore make more sense than trying to simulate a real-world move by performing a TOTALLY UNRELATED real-world move. The disconnect between me hopping in place and Guile doing a somersault is far greater than the disconnect between me pressing up on the controller and Guile somersaulting. If you don't understand why, google "uncanny valley"; this is the uncanny valley of motion sensing. And that's why the controller is more immersive in such scenarios; it’s more believable, not to mention far less physically strenuous, so that I can play SF for half a day if I want without having to train myself to endure 1000 jumps in place per hour.
We already know what happens when you try to force motion sensing into every game that comes out: the Wii’s library is what happens, which my dear friend Nick the SEGABASTARD has explained in detail that it’s “the absolute worst library of any major videogame console in history. It demonstrably, empirically has the most wretched, unplayable, unwanted, unsold roster of bargain bin fodder ever to be compiled for a major home game system” (Woes of the Wii U, October 31, 2014).
So when you force motion-sensing onto a game the very best case scenario is Bokutai, Kojima’s GBA game that forced you to go outdoors and gather sunlight with its light sensor; a novelty in other words, that added nothing to the game’s genre, which is why no one followed it up and even Konami itself dropped the gimmick for the DS installment and why we don’t have a light sensor genre now. In most cases though you just get stupid boring unplayable shit like the Wii catalog that actually tried to use the remote. Gems like Kororinpa are the exception of exceptions, and tend to be complete odd-ball one-offs that still lack the punch to launch a genre (since, no matter how much you may have loved Kororinpa, it’s still just a goofy action-puzzler in the end and no one in their right mind would want to play 100 different variations of it, unlike the dream action scenarios seen in Far Cry and Just Cause and their kind).
In fact the Wii underwent a similar explosion of goofy peripherals in its time as the motion sensing companies are delivering to us now. Am I the only one who remembers the “Wii Breakfast” video? [ > ] .
“And, ummm… what is the point of all this?”
“It’s just like having real breakfast!”
And the point the video is trying to make is that having breakfast is such a mundane activity that simulating it (=glorifying it through art) is retarded. Same with the “indie” walking simulators. And buying accessories like the Wii Frying Pan, Wii Toaster, Wii Eggs and Wii Milk and Wii Newspaper in order to do something with them that you do every morning anyway is even more retarded. And that’s why HTC and Oculus are busy funding HTC Rocks to jump over in Far Cry or Vive Laptop Backpacks to carry around in the desert with the other losers. And just as with the Wii all its best games used traditional controls, so it will be with all the new VR games that support all these new-fangled motion controllers. Except if some of those controllers do not require you to move much while delivering a greater breadth and depth of control than traditional controllers. The VR headsets already do this, in some respects, with head tracking for example, which removes the need e.g. for panning the camera with the mouse in FPSes — at least for subtle movements — and therefore increases efficiency of control. That’s all well and good, and even represents 1:1 motion sensing which increases not only efficiency but even immersion to boot, and any technology that functions in such a manner is welcome and will be widely adopted and celebrated. But all the rest of the stuff is for autists.
For “serious” games, on the other hand, i.e. for TRAINING SIMULATORS, things will work differently. No doubt e.g. the military will have recruits running around with laptop backpacks in specially designed warehouses before long, but that stuff will be about as exciting to play as real flight simulators, which get zero stars automatically on Insomnia compared to PROPER ART like an Ace Combat. Or consider e.g. Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. You couldn’t pay me enough to play that shit PRECISELY BECAUSE it’s far more realistic than Ace Combat. I mean what do you want at the end of the day? If you want realism what the hell are you doing reading a videogame site? What the hell are you doing involving yourself with art in the first place?
Ultimately, as far as training goes, there will eventually be a machine filled with some type of liquid, and the trainee will be immersed in it and able to perform any action physically imaginable, with the liquid adjusting its hardness on the fly to simulate every conceivable object or scenario; but that stuff will be EXTREMELY PHYSICALLY DEMANDING, which is why it will be used for training. I.e., if you want your avatar to perform a somersault in that machine, YOU WILL HAVE TO ACTUALLY PERFORM IT; so it will take many years of tough training to be able to do even a fraction of what SF2 characters do in the screen of the average videogame player every day today; all of which has nothing to do with art, because art is precisely “the craft of illusion”, as I have explained in my Genealogy, therefore training is not our goal here. Here, we want to simulate PRECISELY the moves that the special forces military trainee WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO PERFORM NO MATTER HOW LONG HE TRAINS FOR THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE FOR HUMANS. Here, we want to become James Bonds and Jason Bournes for a while. We want to escape our bodies and to dream, and the demands of 1:1 motion sensing make this impossible past a certain very low threshold, and it is precisely beyond that threshold that the best games and game designs lie!
The highest level of immersion in art can indeed only be achieved when the player is motionless. So motion controls are by definition a dead-end, as it says in the title of the essay you’ve been reading. For more details, wait for the upcoming essay, “Aesthetics and Mechanics and the Grand Unified Theory”, but until then, let me mention the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides of Elea, who maintained that at the level of the universe motion is an illusion (Zeno, of the famous paradoxes, was his pupil). And isn’t the universe the most immersive environment ever? Shouldn’t therefore videogames learn from it, and try to copy, as much as they can, precisely this quality of motionlessness from it?
The future of videogame controls is mind control, my dear readers! Figure out how we can mentally control our avatars, and then we’ll have 1:1 MENTAL control VR play without having to get out of the couch, or even the bed — which is the whole point. Where is the Palmer Luckey who will figure this out, and take the technology out of the laboratories, where it is currently residing, and into the hands of game developers?
I will be watching Kickstarter.