Dif­fi­culty Switch

Phys­i­cal gam­ing begets pas­sive play­ers, ar­gues Ian Bo­gost

EDGE - - SECTIONS - IAN BO­GOST Ian Bo­gost is an au­thor and game de­signer. His award­win­ning A Slow Year is avail­able at www.bit.ly/1eQalad

Morn­ing tele­vi­sion is the freight train of fit­ness trends. These break­fast shows in­tro­duce fam­i­lies to light­weight takes on cur­rent events and fash­ions. The first morn­ing show aired in 1952, and its au­di­ence was pri­mar­ily stay-ath­ome moth­ers. While much has changed, US morn­ing shows such as To­day and Sun­rise still sell tra­di­tion­al­ism, in­clud­ing the lat­est health trends or fit­ness giz­mos, topics that have tra­di­tion­ally ap­pealed to women.

A decade ago, break­fast shows started to ad­vo­cate videogames rather than de­cry their villainy. In 2002, the home con­sole ver­sion of Dance Dance Revo­lu­tion ( DDR) made an ap­pear­ance on To­day. Then in early 2004, high-end DDR mat man­u­fac­turer RedOc­tane started pro­mot­ing the story of Tanya Jessen, a Seat­tle woman who had lost 95 pounds play­ing DDR – “through nearly zero change in diet”. By the end of that year, DDR was a morn­ing show reg­u­lar. Good Morn­ing Amer­ica fea­tured it among Toys To Get Kids Off The Couch. To­day in­ter­viewed Jessen and other ex­treme DDR di­eters.

Fit­ness games weren’t new. Atari cre­ated a pro­to­type sta­tion­ary bi­cy­cle in­ter­face in 1982, and phys­i­cal in­put de­vices such as the LJN Roll & Rocker and Nin­tendo Power Glove of­fered more ‘ac­tive’ ways to play NES ti­tles later that decade. But they had never been pop­u­lar, not in the way DDR in­au­gu­rated.

Sud­denly, mid­dle-aged women started buy­ing PlayS­ta­tions ex­pressly to play DDR as a home work­out, much like young men might buy a con­sole solely for Mad­den or FIFA. The prom­ise of these fit­ness games con­tin­ued through the mid-’00s, first with EyeToy games such as Anti­Grav; then with Wii and its phys­i­cal Re­motes; then with Wii Fit and Wii’s Bal­ance Board, a de­vice ex­plic­itly sold as an ex­er­cise tool; and fi­nally with Sony and Mi­crosoft’s Wii-alikes, PS Move and Kinect.

The trend didn’t last. For one part, it’s be­cause all fit­ness crazes are fleet­ing. Just con­sider the Jazzer­cise tapes or step aer­o­bics plat­forms or Bowflex ma­chines stuffed into

With Xbox One and Kinect 2, the era of phys­i­cal in­ter­faces for fit­ness and ac­tive play has

come to a de­fin­i­tive close

our at­tics. But for an­other part, phys­i­cal videogames were never re­ally com­pat­i­ble with or­di­nary homes. The aver­age den is nei­ther suf­fi­ciently large nor con­fig­urable enough for sim­u­lated dancing or sports. Early ver­sions of Kinect re­quired ab­surdly large dis­tances be­tween sen­sor and player. Gamers might move fur­ni­ture tem­po­rar­ily, but once the nov­elty wears off, decades of in­te­rior de­sign habits re­turn the liv­ing room to its fa­mil­iar, pas­sive state. In fair­ness, the same was true of Jazzer­cise videos: af­ter a spurt of ini­tial in­ter­est, we moved our cof­fee ta­bles back into po­si­tion and tuned in to Wheel Of For­tune.

With Wii, Nin­tendo had adopted the in­dus­trial de­sign of the TV re­mote be­cause of its fa­mil­iar­ity. In so do­ing, it for­got that the re­mote’s great­est power lies in its fa­cil­ity for sloth. With Wii U, Nin­tendo has largely given up on the Wii Re­mote, rel­e­gat­ing it to party game cu­riosi­ties like Just Dance, or re­vert­ing it into an NES-style con­troller for Su­per

Mario 3D World and its ilk. But with Xbox One and its pack-in Kinect 2 ac­ces­sory, the era of phys­i­cal in­ter­faces for fit­ness and ac­tive play has now come to a de­fin­i­tive close. Kinect 2’s pur­pose is pre­cisely the op­po­site of its pre­de­ces­sor. It’s an in­ac­tiv­ity sup­port sys­tem.

When you first set up your Xbox One, it en­cour­ages you to con­nect the op­tional Kinect 2, sweet­en­ing the deal by ex­plain­ing that it will al­low you to op­er­ate the con­sole “with­out putting down your sand­wich”. In­ac­tion only be­comes more press­ing from here. “To en­gage, lift your hand,” reads a tu­to­rial. Once iden­ti­fied, the hand be­comes a cur­sor, like a Wii Re­mote mi­nus the min­i­mal ex­er­tion re­quired to hold one aloft. Voice com­mands such as “Xbox on” even ob­so­lesce the need to press a con­troller but­ton to be­gin gam­ing (even though a but­ton must still be ac­tu­ated to power on the con­troller).

Apart from us­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion for sign­ing mul­ti­ple users into dif­fer­ent Xbox Live ac­counts, lit­tle about Kinect 2’s be­hav­iours re­ally makes things eas­ier. Se­lect­ing a menu by voice, log­ging into a ser­vice, launch­ing an app: these prac­tices be­come in­cre­men­tally less la­bo­ri­ous – com­pared to the al­ready nom­i­nal ac­tiv­ity of pilot­ing a cur­sor around a screen to se­lect an ob­ject with a but­ton. Such a fact is note­wor­thy: the decade-long ex­per­i­ment in phys­i­cal gam­ing has cul­mi­nated in a ‘next gen­er­a­tion’ of to­tal cor­po­real re­prieve. Save your but­ton-press­ing vigour for Ti­tan­fall, a game you’ll still need to put down your sand­wich to play. At least for now.

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