By Alec Meer on October 26th, 2007 at 11:43 am.
The gaming hardware market is always a rich source of people who just don’t get it. All those keyboard and mouse replacements, made from the mistaken presumption that PC gamers at large have some sort of problem with keyboard and mouse. Then there’s the occasional chair-with-a-subwoofer-in, like the Buttkicker, which thinks bombarding your guts with violent tremors until you need to stop playing and go have a poo adds something to gaming. The pistol-shaped mouse still makes me giggle, designed seemingly oblivious to the fact that the nature of mouse usage means there’s no way the barrel of the gun would ever be pointed at your on-screen target, and that having a second, different weapon alongside the one already visible in the game only screws with the sense of immersion.
And now this…
It’s TN Games’ 3rd Space FPS Vest, which claims to simulate the sensation of being wounded in a game. Check out this quote:
“Our patented vest technology now provides gamers with an unprecedented opportunity to physically experience their action… feel the rush of body slams, be crushed with G-forces, feel a stab wound or be blasted with bullet fire in either a single or multi-player game.”
– Mark Ombrellaro, founder of TN Games.
“Feel a stab wound.” Ooh, can I? It’s almost as if we’re not playing games for entertainment, but instead for some manner of masochistic punishment. All those things our parents’ generation and Jack Thompson says are right! We’re just a bunch of sick bastards who can only get our kicks from violence.
Clearly, the point of the $180 (as someone on the Digg thread about this observes, you could pay someone to stand behind you and punch you everytime you get shot in the game for a lot less money) 3rd Space FPS Vest isn’t to wound you, but to increase immersion through its eight compressed air microbladders pulsing away at your torso, supposedly roughly synchronous to where you’re being shot from and the amount of damage taken. With the supported games currently running to Quake III, Doom 3, Quake IV and Call of Duty 2, clearly online gaming is the target here – and exactly the sort of high intensity, extreme focus situation you could really do without being poked in the kidney in. I’d also say that if you’re sat there shooting pretend men for hours on end, you probably don’t want to be wearing a big sweaty vest all the while too.
More seriously, years of gaming has us all well-acclimatised to the gulf between what’s happening on the screen and what we’re physically doing during it, which is sitting on a chair, clicking buttons and not blinking often enough. Something like this will only serve to remind you of the artificiality of the situation, even throb and poke dragging you back to an awareness of how you yourself feel (‘that hurt. Oh, and I’m hungry too. And this vest itches.’) and not what you’re doing in the game.
When we’re playing an FPS, we’re not ourselves in anything like the situation the character we’re playing is (and nor would we really wish to be), and so being as free of external sensation as possible helps us block out what’s actually going on, and succumb to the succour of the screen. Sitting and making tiny hand movements to control our games is as close to sensory deprivation as we can get without expensive sumbersion chambers; it’s a zen state of not really doing anything that helps us give ourselves to the game. A pulsing vest or a shaking chair is just a distraction from that. To be honest, I’m not even terribly keen on rumble in gamepads; force feedback works very well on a steering wheel for driving games, because it’s something like the actual experience, but in most other stuff I’m acutely aware it’s a tiny motor going brrrrrr! in my hand, and not a room exploding.
(The Wii, incidentally, is a different matter. For the relatively few games for it that really do work, the joy comes specifically from the physicality of your motion more than it does the visual elements of the game. There’s a difference between interaction and distraction.)
Perhaps most surprisingly, there is a pink version of the vest, which seems entirely at odds with the oppressively macho line the marketing campaign takes: