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Getting Touchy Feely - Game Sensations

Stop what you're doing and look down for a moment. Look at what's in front of you: a keyboard, and to one side, a mouse. These are tools. But beautifully, over decades, we've manipulated and bastardised these tools into being a means of gaming. Do we need any more? A lot of people seem to think so.

When you compare the instruments with which the PC gamer plays, with those of the console, the difference is pretty hilarious. One is a neat, ergonomic device with economy of space and design, allowing an intricacy of buttons in a simple manner. The other is a large, flat plastic lump with over 100 buttons, and a detached, movable peripheral with up to another seven buttons. And a wheel.

We have taken the tools of serious business, and like an imaginative child with some empty cardboard boxes, we've made a toy out of them. The means by which I'm typing these words in any moment is going to be gleefully misused to control an avatar in a fictional world. That's a joyful thing.

To continue with the child/box metaphor, our instinct is to assume that there must be a better toy for that child. In a recent interview with The A.V. Club, Michel Gondry told the story of the beginnings of Disney World.

Take that, Disney.

"I remember reading an interview with Walt Disney, and he said how he got the idea to create Disney World. He saw his grandson playing in the sand in a little park, and he assumed he was bored. And he said he could provide him a better alternative. But what you get is, you go in this park and you spend time to queue, you have a little bit of entertainment, and then basically they try to get your money. And I truly believe his grandson was having a great time when he was playing with the sand."

The PC gamer is constantly assumed to be needing more, pitied for having to play with the office equipment, rather than the pleasingly shaped controller. Gaming keyboards are created, designed to be more appropriate for the gamer. Mice are promoted on their abilities to perform in an FPS. But in the end, the USB attachments of pretty much any work computer can be used to play the most intricate and involved of games. There have been developments, but thematically, these have arisen from changes to the original tool, rather than deliberate adaptations for gaming. The mousewheel is probably the most significant difference in how we play now, but of course was added for scrolling documents and websites, not changing weapon.

So, do we crave more? A lot of people seem to think so. The latest attempt:

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Gametrailers - our feedback to you is never forced.

A vest and helmet that will let you feel when you get shot. TN Games - the developers of the 3rd Space Vest - make this statement on their website:

"Video game characters live in a three-dimensional world, but gamers have only been able to experience two dimensions... until now. The 3rd Space™ Vest from TN Games takes gameplay beyond sight and sound, creating spatial awareness of the world your characters inhabit. Unlike traditional force feedback devices that rumble or buzz, the 3rd Space™ Vest gives you precise impact where it happens, as it happens. Get pounded with body slams, crushed with G-forces, and blasted with bullet fire."

Clothes that hurt! Brilliant!

One of the best aspects of modern gaming is surround sound. A couple of speakers behind you can make a wonderful difference to the atmosphere of many a 3D game, allowing you to hear things sneaking up behind you, or indicate the direction of action. So no, we've had access to the third dimension in games for quite a while already. However, since there is clearly room for our 3D reality to merge with the 2D image at which we're staring, would something like this help? I can't help but think that I've never associated my real back with the back of a character I'm playing a game. I've never felt like I was missing out because I wasn't receiving impact wounds when my avatar got shot. A sensation on my back when I'm playing is normally an indication to turn around and look away from the screen.

Do we need more "interaction"? Are games lacking phsycial sensations? People certainly seem to think so, although none has ever caught on (primarily because they all look incredibly silly, this gaming vest included). Do you want more sensation as you play? Or is the office equipment we currently subvert enough?

Top image by Ian Cuthbertson

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