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10 bizarre — and real — video-game patents

Above: A sketch from Nintendo's original patent for the Wii Remote. Really.

Image Credit: Google

Everyone has ideas, and that’s good. But some of those ideas are strange, if not crazy, and the worst news of all is that we have almost no way to hear about them so that they can fascinate and occasionally confuse us.

Luckily, however, Google Patents exists, and it’s a valuable resource to learn about all kinds of ideas, both brilliant and … let’s just say “unique.”

I dove into the archives and came back with 10 of the strangest ideas for game-related inventions I could find. And here they are, in no particular order.

‘Unlocking secrets of video games’ (Patent #US6475083 B1)

Controller-based game content

This vaguely named patent, which sounds kind of like the title of either an entry-level course at a technical college or the slogan of the most fun cult imaginable, has to do with controllers. Specifically, it involves locking game content behind a wall that only particular peripherals can unlock.

And it’s not so much that different gamepads have different functions and will therefore let you play games in various ways, like Nintendo’s motion-control Wii Remote versus Microsoft’s gyroscope-deficient Xbox 360 controller. Rather, this patent aims at creating “such a strong synergy between the game and the matching video game controller [that] consumers are most likely to be attracted to the matching video game controller instead of other game controllers available in the marketplace.”

It’s basically a marketing ploy.

‘Method and apparatus for producing “personalized” games using CD discs’ (Patent #US5595389 A)

Personalized game

This patent and its amazing illustrations come from all the way back in 1993, which was a simpler time. Bill Clinton was President, the average price of gas was $1.16 a gallon, and Nintendo’s space-borne rail shooter Star Fox came out and blew everyone’s mind with its crazy, jagged polygons.

The idea is this: You use a camera to take low- and high-resolution images of yourself which a game can use to paste your face on top of the main character’s. It’s an idea developers have revisited several times, including Sony’s EyeToy camera peripheral and Face Raiders, which came packed in with Nintendo’s 3DS handheld system and turned players into grotesque flying monsters.

They weren’t supposed to be creepy, but they were.

Later on, the patent talks about a function in which players can print “hard copies” of their personalized characters, and I’m not sure what you’d want to do with those, but again, it was 1993.

‘Video game protective glove’ (Patent #US4519097 A)

Video game protective glove

Here’s an even older application from 1983, and it’s pretty amazing.

That up there is a glove that the inventor created to “leave the fingertips of the player exposed for greater sensitivity and feel of the controls while protecting the user’s fingers from abrasions, calluses, and bruises” while playing an arcade cabinet.

I haven’t personally ever played a stand-up game so long that I got a blister (although if I relax my left hand, it will settle into the exact shape of a PlayStation 2 controller). But I do like the idea of a hush falling over an audience as an ultra-serious guy opens a small, personalized case to remove the glove that marks him as a true diehard gamer.

Wait, no. That’s a scene from 1989’s feature-length Nintendo commercial The Wizard. Nevermind.

‘Inflatable vehicles for simulating driving for use with video games’ (Patent #US8210534 B2)

Inflatable vehicleImmersion is important in games, but developers have different standards by which they measure it. It could just be a matter of letting the player become fully invested in the experience, and a sweet surround-sound mix certainly doesn’t hurt there.

But for other creative types, imagination only goes so far, and they want to offer as close an analog as they can to what’s happening onscreen. And that’s where inventions like this come from. It’s an inflatable go-cart that you sit in to pretend you’re driving while you play a motion-controlled racing game (the illustrations show a Wii Remote).

The inflatable steering wheel turns, and the inflatable tires … well, they don’t really do anything, but you can look down and see tires, and maybe that’ll help you win.

I’d probably also sit in this thing while I watched chase-heavy films like Bullitt or the original Gone in 60 Seconds. I’d pretend I was just some random person in traffic watching these amazing things happen in front of me.

‘Video-game screen divider’ (Patent #US5435557 A)

Video-game screen divider

When you’re playing a splitscreen game against a friend, you want to be sure that everyone’s playing fairly. It takes the fun right out of everything when you find out that your opponent is beating you because they’re looking over at your side of the TV to see where you’re hiding. It’s just mean.

Luckily, someone thought of this divider, which gives you peace of mind at the small cost of affixing a piece of opaque material to your television.

The document describes seven different versions of this device with various materials and means of attachment. But the inventor says that optimally, “the preferred material is a polyurethane-foam that has been dyed or painted black.”

And because that’s really all this thing is, you can easily make your own. And I did when I was younger, but mine were made of cardboard, and I attached them with packing tape.  But then I realized how needlessly complicated that was and adopted an “Everybody may peek” policy instead. It was just easier to enforce than the honor system.

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