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The Death of the Controller?

From a personal viewpoint, gaming is about becoming involved with what is happening on the screen in-front of me; feeling empathy for the characters I witness within the game, and receiving a sense of satisfaction when that particularly hard section of a game is finally conquered. Ever since playing my dad’s Sega Mega Drive when I was a kid, holding a controller in order to manipulate the onscreen reality has never inhibited my imagination from feeling emotional connections with games. Returning even now to play my first ever console I owned, the N64, holding the awkwardly designed controller in my hand (you know what I mean if you ever played on the console!) allows me to reconnect with those warm, nostalgic feelings of the hours spent fighting boss monsters and finding secret treasures. For a more serious or even professional gamer, your knowledge of the controller gives a further angle in which you can test your skill against your opponent.

Over the past six years, the major console companies have been steadily broadened their horizons, transforming consoles into multi-purpose entertainment systems used for music, social networking and movies, alongside gaming. This began with the monumental launch of the Nintendo Wii in 2006, the console which took the globe by storm, to the extent that it was unable to fulfil the amount of pre-orders placed here in the UK. Further on down the line, two years ago in 2010, Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360 became the fastest and most popular piece of hardware ever produced in the industry, offering a wider range of people, such as older generations and families, completely controllerless gaming. No longer would people be forced to operate a foreign feeling controller while watching the screen at the same time; brightly coloured close proximity buttons all with a variety of functions became a thing of the past for the casual gamer. In particular, it is obvious that Microsoft believe that Kinect truly improves the experience of playing games on the Xbox 360 through their motto; ‘Better with Kinect’.

It personally saddens me to see the sheer volume of rushed and poorly designed games which pour out of development studios in order to jump on the bandwagon of the motion gaming craze. As a particular example, Lucas Art’s Kinect Star Wars strikes me as a game which is full of tedious repetition; linear, awkward looking gameplay in which you swing your arms wildly around as if being chased by a swarm of angry bees. However, this isn’t to say Kinect can’t be used to improve controller-based gaming. A fantastic utilisation of the speech-recognition powers of Kinect can be seen in Bioware’s Mass Effect 3, where predetermined commands can be used to change weapons, throw grenades, and issue orders to team-mates fluidly without having to pause the action on-screen.

Perhaps there was a slight over-exaggeration in the title of this article. Popular games on both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 continue the trend of controller gaming through Call of Duty, FIFA and Assassin’s Creed; with the occasional Kinect compatible game breaking through, such as Forza 4. This aside, do the changes seen in the gaming industry in just six short years raise questions of the survivability of the humble controller in the next generation of console gaming?

Liam Ross

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4 Comments on this post.
  • Li
    5 September 2012 at 13:56
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    Interesting! I like console games… on the rare occasions that I actually play.

  • Nan
    5 September 2012 at 22:17
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    Very interesting article Liam, it made very good reading giving a non gamer an insight into the future of the gaming industry.

  • Josh
    6 September 2012 at 00:36
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    I always wanted an eye toy. My neighbours had everything grrr. BUT I READ THAT LIAM! GO ME X2 😀

  • Dave J
    6 September 2012 at 11:26
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    I think it was Yahtzee who asked why it was that the video game companies think that we will feel more immersed in games if we have to jump around in our living room compared to holding a controller. If anything, the former is even more immersion-breaking. It’s very easy to forget you’re using a controller (particularly when you’re using a keyboard and mouse in my view), but using kinect I imagine you’d just get tired early on.

    If the traditional controller ends up being phased out (I don’t think it will be for ‘real’ games, to be honest), it will be because of a pressure to innovate for innovation’s sake, not because people are unhappy with current controllers.

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