Archive for the 'Games' Category

Immersive Tech: Base-Level Rewards

Monday, August 6th, 2007

Last week I wrote about what I labeled “immersive” tech, meaning the technology that relies on senors, such as motion sensors or cameras, to remove an abstraction layer from computer interaction and simplify the user experience. These can show up in lots of different ways, such as voice-driven, automated phone systems, but they seem to mostly appear in video game technologies. This is because immersive tech is really entertaining.

But why are such immersive technologies so darn fun? Sure, there’s a novelty factor tied to them. Maybe interest in the Wii will die out. Maybe people will really just stop buying games and systems that rely on such sensors. Maybe it’s just a gimmick.

Really, though, I don’t think it is just a gimmick. We are, to put it crudely, meatbags. Discussion of the immortal soul aside, we are creatures of flesh and bone, with a complicated neural net (our nervous system) driving it all. Said neural net’s been trained through our lives to do things directly tied to living – moving around, waving our body parts, etc.  There’s a positive response tied to direct manipulation of our bodies, because, evolutionarily speaking, there’s probably a hard-wired positive reward for using our body.

I think that the “normal” interface to computers and games, the button-driven controller, is a level of abstraction that doesn’t tie into the base-level rewards we get for moving around.  I speculate that there’s a level of abstraction that makes most interaction more of a cognitive dance, relying on higher brain functions instead of the primeval correlation of body movement. Ultimately, the brain has to make a translation step: Move the thumb to here and press, and that means my avatar will do <X>.  It’s still entertaining, but it’s more of a higher-level entertainment.

With such sensors, we remove the abstraction – I move, and my avatar moves.  The level of abstraction seems to disappear, and so we start to tap into that bestial benefit of using our body.  Similarly, it’s a lot more intuitive; nearly everyone knows how to make their limbs do what they want, but not everyone can make the cognitive leap to find the buttons on a controller that they need, especially not those that did not grow up with console video games.  Heck, even the intuitive nature of it can contribute to getting to the sweet, chewy nougat of a game, avoiding (or at least softening) the learning curve for a game.  It’s only more approachable this way.

Of course, really, I’m just speculating.  I’m neither a psychologist nor a neuroscientist.  It will be interesting to see if any research is done regarding what parts of the brain are stimulated when playing active Wii games, for example, versus more “traditional” console games.  Is it different?  Are the pleasure centers tickled differently? etc…

And of course, who knows how this will affect interactive software in general… it’s a cool time to be a codesmith.  :)


Immersive tech

Monday, July 30th, 2007

More blogging catch-up:

Another O’Reilly Radar article, this time on a topic near and dear to many Americans: maintaining a young appearance.  Brady draws the point that games are great for training, but doesn’t dig very deeply.  This is a point that I feel is important and should be restated, but is hardly new.  However, the really interesting point that the article seems to highlight to me is this:

Tying a digital game to the physical world is still novel. As sensors become cheaper and more accurate I think it’s one of the things that we will see more often in games.

…and honestly, this link back to the physical world is something I’ve dreamed about ever since I read things like Gibson’s Neuromancer or Stephenson’s Snow Crash.  The idea that a game (or any computer interface, really) can rely on different types of inputs beyond button mashing is… thrilling.  Anything that relies on how I (meaning not my game avatar) am physically moving or (someday, maybe) thinking is ultimately going to be more immersive (and so probably more entertaining).

It’s a trend that’s been taking hold recently; the Wii and its wonderful controllers are probably the most notable (and successful) example of this.  Sure, there will probably be plenty of failed “me too” competitors along the way, but we really are going to see a lot more immersive technologies for games and for general computing.  We’re finally at a stage where it is economically feasible to put such sensors into consumer-level toys, games, and tech.  It just gets more fun from here.

I’ll muse on why I think this is fun, and more than just a gimmick next week…