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ctrain avatar 10:01 AM on 06.14.2010  (server time)
I Sense a Dis-Kinect as we Move into the Future: Wii've Been Here Before

E3! It's finally here. Well, it a few hours away but with everything that has been leaked it almost feels like we're halfway through the show. Despite never having attended, this is one of my favorite weeks of the year. E3 has always represented an opportunity to get a glimpse at what exciting new games and products we'll be getting our grubby paws on. Only this year feels a little different.

I liken the feeling to how my children must feel on a daily basis. As an adult, I've grown used to making my own decisions regarding when, where, and how I want things to happen. The experiences of my children (ages 4 and 1) on the other hand, are limited to those that I deem appropriate for them. Those experiences are influenced by a number of factors, including my analysis of what constitutes loving guidance, the effects of my own fears, and my own biases. Parenting is not an innate ability. It is something that is learned through trial and error. As such, often the biggest determinant in what choices are made for my children is what I've observed other parents doing. If you have children, you know that the choices you make for them do not always sit well. The resulting behavior, the tantrum, is a sign that they are experiencing discomfort.

As my 4 year old grows, I'm finding that she will often take a different route to arrive at the same outcome. I find myself amazed when I watch her solve a problem in a manner completely inconsistent with what I would have done. She always manages to find a solution even when I think she will not. This sparked my interest in the theory of multiple intelligences. I won't bore you with the details, but the basic idea is that humans learn through a variety of different methods (spatial, musical, kinestetic, etc.) and that measurement using one single method (IQ) may not validly measure intelligence. This is not an idea without critics. Much work needs to be done to prove the utility of this theory, but conceptually it seems to make sense. Each of us is wired in a distinct way. We all know people who excel in a variety of different domains (math, music, art, memory). So perhaps a discipline that lends itself to the type of intelligence (learning) that is preferred by an individual will be most comfortable for them.

If we are drawn to careers or solve problems based on differing types of intelligences, perhaps our enjoyment of recreational activities derives from the same mechanism. Some are drawn to sports, others to art. Some kids like to play with legos, others show a preference for the violin. I postulate that we all choose recreational activities that minimize the dissonance (aka difference, disconnect) between what we are doing and our preferred method of learning or acting. Forgive the phrasing, but the idea relates to work I did for my thesis based on control theory. The idea is that actions can be based on minimizing the difference between the current state and a desired goal or reference. In plain English, we attempt to minimize the difference between what we have and what we want to have, what we feel and what we want to feel, etc. We achieve this by adjusting our actions until we are able to reach a state where our perception matches our goal. It has been shown that once we achieve that state, we demonstrate better performance in complex tasks and report more enjoyment from the activities we are engaged in. When we are unable to achieve this state, and instead are faced with persistent dissonance, we experience discomfort and often disengage from the activity (the adult form of a tantrum).

Hey! Wake up!!! It's more interesting than it sounds.

How does this relate to gaming? Well, for the last several years we've had options with respect to how we play our games. The Wii (which I love as a kinestetic type) has offered motion controls while the other systems stuck with the more classic controller interface. With the introduction of Kinetic and Move, and the tremendous amout of marketing around them, we are moving into the future and that future has been defined for us. The demonstration videos all center around the same experiences we've already had with the Wii. Sports games, mini-games, throw this ball, smack this ball, make driving motions. I haven't seen a single experience that isn't an exact replica of something I've already done with Wii.

Microsoft and Sony appear to be chasing the dollar that Nintendo already earned. But the brilliance of the Wii was that it was something we hadn't seen before and didn't expect. Pardon the pun, but in a sense the Wii was a Revolution. Millions of customers who never took to gaming were drawn in. A big part of this was the advent of motion control. Many who weren't drawn to the old controller style of gameplay found themselves enjoying the Wii. Much like using a different intelligence to learn, Nintendo offerend the opportunity to use a different way to interact. Movement replaced confusing finger gymnastics and opened up the world of gaming to masses who had previously found the activity too frustrating. When the Wii was released, consumers were given choices when it came to how they could interact with virtual environments.

Wouldn't it make more sense for Microsoft and Sony to attract customers looking for another different experience. If you want to be the next big thing, out of necessity don't you have to be the "next" thing? By putting all of the eggs in a giant motion controlled basket, isn't the industry homogenizing and thus reducing the scope of their market? I can't claim to know what the future of gaming is, but I can assure you the future is not something that was shown by Nintendo at E3 in 2005......the way MS and Sony are acting, the future of gaming will be whatever Nintnedo shows in 2010.

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