Future game control design

There is a tendency among computer gamers to find the most energy efficient way to play. For example, if you watch a beginner play Wii Tennis, you may see a lot of wild arm swinging. Yet an expert player will barely move the controller. For this particular game, as for most computer games, less movement enables greater control.

This suggests that the standard input control designs for computer games may not produce the best long term results for physically immersive Virtual and Mixed Reality games. To see why, we need to go back to earlier and more established forms of human entertainment.

Consider the guitar. In order to play the guitar properly, you need to use a mix of larger and smaller muscles. A proficient guitar player will use her body and arms to keep the guitar in an optimal position as well as for placing her left hand at the optimal location and orientation on the fret board. The fine motor control of her fingers are not tasked with any of this work, but rather are free to press against the fret board in the most energy efficient way, thereby allowing maximum control and dexterity.

A similar separation of tasks between large muscles and small muscles is seen in most musical instruments, from piano to trombone to viola. A well designed instrument allows its user to make optimal use of various parts of the body’s musculature, with the large muscles shouldering the burden of strength work, and the small muscles performing the fine motor tasks.

We see the same thing with well designed sports equipment, such as a tennis racket, or a football. An expert player will use complementary muscle groups at all times.

This suggests that if we are going to be evolving from the disembodies realm of games on screen to the more active and embodied realm of VR/MR, we should be designing games that make full use of the body. Those games may be more difficult to learn than “wrist flicking” games, but I suspect that in the long run they are going to be a lot more satisfying, and will have a better chance of becoming widely adopted in the years to come.

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