Certainly the most innovative video gaming peripheral to hit the stores this holiday season was Xbox 360’s Kinect. The idea is so simple and refreshing that it is a wonder that it hasn’t been done well before now—gaming with no controller. There is no need to be familiar with the layout of a controller, no combination of buttons to press, no question of whether to invert your thumbstick—you are the controller. You don’t even have to have a controller to navigate the game menus—everything can be done with your hands or your voice.
The inevitable question is whether Kinect revolutionize video gaming. The answer to that question, I think, is yes, but exactly how is yet to be seen. I picked up a Kinect along with its most decorated game, Dance Central, two weeks ago, just in time to try it out on lots of different friends and family I would be seeing over the holidays. I must say that Kinect is the most accessible gaming platform I have ever witnessed. We had people from age 8-60 playing and loving Dance Central. There is no doubt in my mind that Kinect will draw people to console gaming, but the big question for those of us who care not just about the growing popularity of video games, but also about the quality of games is this: will it enhance the medium? That is a far more complicated question.
Should Christians be excited about Kinect? I think they should. In my short experience with Dance Central, I have found it to be the most immediately accessible game I have ever experienced in groups. The Kinect has tons of potential to provide memorable shared experiences for all kinds of people. Additionally, it is certainly the most physically demanding gaming peripheral I have ever used and I think the care of our physical bodies is all too often neglected Christian discipline. So the short answer is yes–Christians should be excited about Kinect. Kinect certainly has its own unique value already, however, I am drawn to video games that not only raise my heart rate but stir my soul. It is yet to be seen whether Kinect will produce games that give players meaningful experiences beyond a night of laughs with friends.
I count myself amoung a growing camp of gamers who are drawn to the power of narrative in video games and think the question as to whether games are art is a silly question because the answer is blatantly obvious. The games I tend to most enjoy are games with intriguing stories (Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption,and Half-Life) or memorable experiences (Amnesia, Portal, Limbo, and Braid). Games are art and the question to consider is whether the art of games can be deeply and uniquely experienced. I think a number of games are at least attempting to prove that the answer to that question is a resounding yes (Bioshock, RDR, Fallout 3, Metro 2033, Braid, and Heavy Rain).
It could be however that those who identify with me with regard to gaming have given up on the idea of motion control. The introduction of the Nintendo Wii four years ago introduced many to motion controlled gaming—all sorts of people who never tried video games were playing Wii tennis and bowling. This, I believe, was a defining moment in the growth of the console gaming industry. Sadly, however, the Wii never really explored motion control gaming with stirring narrative and many in my camp of gamers have already written it off. However, what made the Wii so accessible and appealing to folks who didn’t previously play games is at least twice as accessible and appealing with Kinect—which at least gives me the hope that Kinect will go where the Wii never did.
There seems to be a pretty large disconnect between the type of gamer that is drawn into something like the Wii or Kinect and those who are drawn with narrative, morality, and the unique emotional power of games. Certainly there must be a way to bridge the gap—I won’t try to diagnose how but my hope is that developers will try to do so with Kinect. Given the fate of the Wii, I have my doubts, but the fate of Kinect rests in the hands of developers.
If this gap is never bridged that might not be a bad thing. Great narrative-driven games are going to continue to be produced by developers determined to hone that craft. Additionally, I am sure that many fun party games will be made for Kinect—which is also a good thing. Fun games = good. In short, I can’t see how Kinect will harm the world of video games, I just have pipe dreams that it could change the way we experience games.
So here’s to hoping for a truly stunning horror game for Kinect or perhaps something more akin to Heavy Rain that creatively utilizes Kinect’s impressive motion sensors. I just came up with those ideas off the top of my head which indicates the massive potential Kinect has—the real question is will anyone ever tap into it?
I hope lots of people check out Kinect—it’s a blast to play. Dance Central is hilariously fun to play with people who can’t dance. The pictures and video it takes of you as you play make for a good laugh. Maybe it is making us more narcissistic, but I prefer to interpret it as just a lot of good fun. Kinect possesses great potential, the big question for me is will developers attempt to make games that utilize its potential with regard to the narrative and experience of games? Its games will certainly make us laugh and hone our gluts, but will at least some of them move us, stick with us, and involve us in narrative in ways games previously haven’t? If such games are not made for Kinect, the gaming world is no worse off, but if they are, it really could revolutionize gaming and consequently our shared experiences playing them.