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Kinect: The Future of Gaming?

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If you were on Xbox Live this past weekend, you witnessed firsthand the transformation of BW, Colonel Grade 3, to The Spectator — seen but not heard.  I played no Halo: Reach on Sunday and Monday, but I earned 300 G between Kinect Adventures and Dance Central.  That's not to say I am hanging up my controller, of course, but at whatever core, Microsoft must be thrilled with its device's success.

The Spectator, Iss. 6

I'm not ready to pronounce the Kinect the modern evolution of gaming as we know it.  I'm not ready to say Kinect won't go the way of the Vision camera.  What I am saying is that Monday, at my parents house, my nieces and nephews (between 6-14 years old), my sister-in-law (aged 40-something), my mother (25 years old… ahem…), and myself took turns river rafting, popping bubbles, sealing leaks, and grooving to The Black Eyed Peas (DLC) and Lady Gaga.  The range of emotions and expressions from all present (including my older brothers and dad) ran from happy to amazed, from too cool to play to too eager for the next turn.

Myself?  I'm trying to buy in, whole hog.  Originally, I was not quite sure where I was regarding the Kinect.  In fact, I did not even have it on my Amazon wishlist despite the upcoming birthday and Christmas season.  I had hoped for Kinect success as far as it concerned the on-going viability of the 360 console, but I didn't want to be playing Halo or Gears without a controller in my hand and my behind in a chair.  Believing though requires submission that you cannot look cool unless you truly are.  The moment I had to "Step and clap" for "Poker Face" with my fiancee not really paying attention in the kitchen, I knew I had to let go of the reservation.  And sure enough, two claps later, she peered her head into the living room, looked and laughed, hopefully with, and not at, me.

My initial thoughts are two fold: 1) the Kinect feels like an odd combination wherein I feel like I'm doing something but that something is not necessarily gaming, chivos be damned, and 2) I can't help but wonder where and when Microsoft overcomes, if ever, the reluctance to get up off the couch.

As to the first, I guess it's a little hard to describe.  Essentially, I felt like I was doing an activity, i.e., not sitting around gaming my life away.  While I haven't done anything that qualifies as a workout, I felt like I was working out, however slight.  I felt my heart rate accelerate, my quads tighten and my forehead dampen with sweat.  In the immortal words of Billy Idol, I danced with myself.  It was weird though because despite the fact that Dance Central has a rating system and ranks and leaderboards or that Kinect Adventures had a "campaign," game advancement existed as only a secondary factor in maintaining my interest and entertainment.  I didn't feel like I was trying to succeed in the game but rather through participation, I had already accomplished something.  Weird.

As to the second, I can't help but wonder what happens with the divide between the hardcore and casual gamer.  Maybe it's just because I am and we are who we are.  We spend our time perusing internet sites searching for the latest on L.A. Noire; we look at our friends list to see who we can send invites to play Reach or Black Ops with when we're online.  "We" have always gamed that way whereas "they" play Wii, a console which, for the most part, has been relegated by "us" to jokes about folks in senior homes or kids that play Super Mario Smash Bros. Melee Brawl Mash Kart with a guest appearance by Pikachu. 

I am not sure whether Kinect can tap into the cool factor that made Guitar Hero popular until it was run into the ground.  I think success with Kinect may rest with accessibility, but while that brings new people to the table, what does it do to the rest? 

I think the Kinect, technologically speaking, is something that creates a connection (yes, I know) between gamer and console that feels great and is surprisingly natural.  That said, I hope it finds a place where games are well-designed to take advantage of that technology and moves beyond tech demonstrations.  Also, I hope that the device itself does not encroach upon that which I know and love.  I hope that despite the tag "You ARE  the controller," the Kinect doesn't take my controller away.  The controller is meant to fit in my hands and it does and with the Xbox 360, better than any controller before it. 

The evolution of the joystick, from its simplest four-directional form for Pac-Man, to its present, dual analog, four-shoulder, four-face buttoned incarnation, feels as natural to me as Kinect.  I hope that there is room for both.


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