Feel The Pain

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:

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30 Comments »

  1. Del Boy says:

    We’re all lying if we say we don’t want to try it out though…

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    I’ve played many games which have caused me physical pain.

    I want the pink vest.

    KG

  3. drunkymonkey says:

    I’m itching to see the sales figures for this particular item.

  4. bluespacetiger says:

    It kind of looks like a straitjacket…

  5. MisterBritish says:

    Perhaps it can administer morphine too?

  6. Ghiest says:

    They have tried it before, i think they had a PS2 Version that did something similar and failed abysmally as well, I think this will as well.

  7. Lorc says:

    Some of my friends once decided to liven up my Diablo 2 play by shooting me with a BB gun whenever I died.

    This was less fun than you might imagine.

  8. Monkfish says:

    I want an orange one. And a crowbar mouse (a logical variation of the pistol mouse). And a force feedback beard. I want the full Gordon Freeman experience.

  9. Crispy says:

    lmao force feedback beard. I would want to try it, but at an expo, or in a cybercafe. I wouldn’t want to wear it all the time, it’s more likely to disrupt my concentration, which is why it will never take off for online gaming, especially not twitch games.

    I can see a use for it, though. If LAN cafes had a stock of them and you couold take a party along for a ‘king of the hill’ game. But this one has a twist: all participants wear one of these vests and an attendant plugs in the vest of whoever is at the top of the scoreboard. That should even things up a bit! :P

  10. Thelps says:

    It looks like a life jacket. Would have been big in the ’80s.

  11. Anaardvark says:

    What baffles me is how the Pistol Mouse got an Editors Pick’s award…

  12. WCAYPAHWAT says:

    I saw one for a SNES or SEGA Saturn or some other old console at an op-shop. except it looked like some teched out plastic alien armor.

  13. The_B says:

    I would be tempted. If only to hook it up to Peggle. Think of Ode to Joy IN FIVE-DEE!

  14. Tr00jg says:

    “Woohoo, force feedback, I can feel the pain!!! Yeah!” will shortly be replaced by “aarrrghh, force feedback, I can feel the frikken pain!!”

  15. Xerxes says:

    First case of internal bleeding due to force feedback?

    It’s an interesting idea but on its own I don’t think it would do more for your sense of immersion than headphones and switching the lights off.

    It does raise the question of how immersion will work in games five or ten years from now.

  16. Mike says:

    Sure I would love to try this but what happens when your character gets killed?

    In reality though… it can’t be too rough, the vest would probably be the equivalent of a comforting torso massage.

  17. Thelps says:

    “Now Timmy, we know those bruises aren’t from a videogame. Tell us what REALLY happens to you at home.”

  18. The_B says:

    Timmy: “My parents made me wear a pink vest…”

  19. Jens Arnesen says:

    “They hit you while you were forced to wear a pink straitjacket?…”

  20. Alan Au says:

    The pink version is for added psychological trauma.

  21. Garth says:

    I think this will work one of two ways: 1) It’ll vibrate so hard it WILL cause bruises (this seems the most unlikely), 2) It will barely vibrate and you’ll be sitting there with a stupid looking vest on.

    Either way, what does this ADD to the game? If anything, it makes it annoyingly harder.

  22. Nick says:

    It could massage your shoulder muscles whilst you play. If they adapted it to be.. er, useful. That could help carpal tunnel or something.

  23. Winterborn says:

    The pink version looks cool. Of course, I’m sure I could get something that looks the same for half the price.

    Good article. These things have been around forever(I recall some kind of vest for the Megadrive) and have never taken off for the reasons you list. Those that don’t learn from history and so on.

  24. Spacegirl says:

    I demand the creators of Said vest be lined-up and shot execution style and all of their assets seized and auctioned.

    The money obtained will be used for someone to finally make a modern X-Wing vs TIE Fighter online shooter, with multiple game types, intense fighter customization, and Persistent Droids that you design and stay with you throughout the experience. PLEASE MAKE THIS GAME!!! IF IT IS GOOD I PROMISE IT WILL BE POPULAR. I PROMISE!!! ALSO NO EP 1-3 SHIPS PLZ KTHX.

  25. Matt says:

    This is how all babies should be dressed, camo for boys, pink for girls.

  26. Piratepete says:

    Hey now don’t do it down guys. Surely it would help the circulation through the back muscles of the older gamer after long sessions of sitting in a sedantary position. A sort of massage chair for the chronically poor FPS player.

    It probably would have helped me stay awake during terminably dull WoW raids too.
    “Oooh I’m being hit, must wake up and click button”

    They should do a pair of glasses that make you blink regularly too

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