If I’m The Controller…

Ah, the good old days.

Ah, the good old days.

It seems like everyone is obsessed with making me do more when I play games. Remember when there were only two buttons to contend with? Then they added shoulder buttons, but that was fine – I had fingers resting there anyway. What’s that? A second set of shoulder buttons? Well, sure, I guess. I had extra fingers doing nothing most of the time. Oh, more buttons? Two analogue sticks? A back button? A guide button? How many fingers do you think I have?! At least adding vibration feedback meant that my aching joints got a massage.

Exaggeration is the writer’s best friend, but you get the idea. I’m comfortable with a console controller, be it the slimline PS3 pad or the slightly bloated Xbox 360 one, but some people aren’t. If we skip back a generation before, there was nothing funnier for me than watching my sister wrestle with an original Xbox pad and always lose. Those things were just not meant for female hands.

Sticking with the last generation, the Gamecube controller layout always felt a little strange to me. It was like a PS2 pad suffering from bulimia that had shed more pounds than it should have. Not to mention looking like it had been coloured in by a child following a paint-by-numbers diagram that got bored half way through. It was still easy to use though, as long as your fingers could cope with that little shoulder button that was barely half the size of the trigger just below it.

Okay, who forgot to colour in L, Y and X?

Okay, who forgot to colour in L, Y and X?

Skip back to now (yes, we’re on a whirlwind tour through game controller history, so keep your hands inside the article at all times and don’t feed the gorilla) and we of course have the Wii. Arms are now thrown into the controlling mix. Do you have any idea how weak those are after a lifetime of not using them?

I’ve never felt comfortable with the Wii Remote and that’s especially true when the Wii Nunchuk connector is attached. It just feels strange to be waving my arm around while wiggling an analogue stick in mid-air I suppose, at least it does after the initial glee of pretending it’s a magic wand has worn off. Above all else it felt embarrassing to me. The kind of embarrassment you’d feel if a friend walked in on you singing into a hairbrush or watching This Morning.

But, wait! There’s more! Hands and arms isn’t enough! No, sir. Now your legs and feet need to do something too. Welcome to the Wii Balance Board. I’m actually quite a fan of the balance board. It’s a simple trick to add another dimension to playing games so I applaud that. Sure, it still makes you look like a fool as you try to mimic hula-hooping or snowboarding, but it’s still fun. I suppose any kind of interactive gaming has a hidden clause where you need to leave your dignity at the door.

Just to prove that I have no respect for the space-time continuum and chronologically listing things, let’s jump back a little before the Wii introduced methods of forcing me to use my body. You see, I forgot about guns and steering wheels. The arcade booths with the gun attachments in particular and they carried fairly well into home systems. In a way the light-gun games even as far back as the NES and Duck Hunt foreshadowed the problem that unenergized gamers like myself would have today. Half an hour of shooting ducks and trying very hard not to obliterate that smug dog left your arms feeling like dumbbells.

I persevered with it though. I forced my body to get in on my gaming action and still do to this day. Hands? Check. Arms? Check. Legs and feet? Check check. I’m starting to hurt a little, but what’s a little premature arthritis if I get to have fun? They can’t possibly do anything else to me now.

Unless they do away with controllers altogether. Yes, I’m talking about Project Natal. This has already been covered so I’m not going to repeat that information. Instead, I’m going to pitch two situations based on a world where Natal has been rolled out and everyone has one.

...But what if I dont want to be?

...But what if I don't want to be?

Scenario one: you’re a proud mother or father of a few kids. You don’t want your children sitting around vegetating all day, but you don’t want them going outside either. No, the outside world is far too scary what with terrorists and perverts and old people. Natal would offer a happy medium of active play and stimulation without facing all those dangers outside. It’s a good thing, I suppose. In the short term. Just don’t let them play the Natal version of RapeLay when it is inevitably created.

Scenario two: you’re between the ages of twenty and too-old-to-care (think around fifty). You could be in the same family situation as above, but the important change is that you’re well invested in a career. You work hard and so you want to play hard. You come home after a long day at work just itching to leap into your chair with chips and a drink on one side and a console pad on the other. But there’s no pad. You’re the pad. Get off your tired backside and start leaping around like a marionette with ADHD.

It’s that second scenario that sticks in my mind and it is the biggest flaw in this shift towards casual and more interactive gaming. If I want to unwind after work playing my newest game I don’t want to have to flail around and I can’t imagine for a second that I’m the only one who would think like that. Perhaps that’s the real plan: turn everyone into a casual gamer. Only play on weekends with friends when you can all have a laugh as each of you take turns prancing about hitting virtual balls against a virtual wall or grooming a computerized boy called Milo.

So, despite working hard on a day job I’ll soon be required to work when I want to have fun as well and that brings me to my key question. If I’m the controller…where do my batteries go?

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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.


  1. KrazyFace /

    Wow, you just said everything I’ve been thinking for the last year and a half! I’m a lazy guy, I mean LAZY. Think of a rug on valium and you’re half way there to how lazy I am.

    It really does worry me that there’s gonna be a killer game that I want to play, but have to get up off my backside to play it. I spent a lot of money on a ‘gaming chair’ so I could further immerse myself in my games (it’s not one of those electric doo-hickky chairs by the way) and I’ll be damned if it’s going in the shed!

    Nice article mate. Nail. On. The. Head.

  2. I hadn’t thought of this. It definitely is quite a dilemma for game designers. How do you maximize on the potential of Natal without making us actually feel like we are the bad-ass adventurer running and jumping around? Developers have probably realized this and are figuring out ways for gamers to have their usual 8 – hour gaming sessions while still using Natal. I remember WiiBoxing being really fun but also tiring me out after five minutes with it. Definitely a problem in need of solutions.

    Maybe games will use a controller for movement and fighting and stuff, but use Natal for other things like talking.

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