Console video game lovers have lived with Xbox Kinect for a couple years now. One of the earliest applications in the burgeoning technology of gesture control, Kinect joined the Nintendo Wii and Sony PS3 Move in a small club of console systems that transformed the player’s body into a game controller.
When the Kinect first debuted in 2010, I wrote that very young kids coming into video games would have no problems absorbing use of the product. They’d begin using gesture control when they would begin playing and would never know games without it.
I thought older kids and teens would have to adjust a bit and decide if they wanted to transition from controller-based games.
Now (as then), I believe that original generation gamers (the folks old enough to remember their first Atari 2600, Nintendo or Sega Genesis), would have the most difficulty adapting to the brave new world of bodily game control.
To test my theories, we got a hold of an Xbox Kinect and set players of a different age against a set of games including Kinect Star Wars, Avengers: Battle for Earth, and a series of Kinect sports titles and multiple dancing games. It’s not the most scientific test with the most thorough game collection, but this isn’t an academic journal, either.
Steve, 8, Student: Steve began playing console video games at age three, and began transitioning to Nintendo Wii gesture controls by five. He was fully adept at Kinect use within 30 minutes of opening the box.
Bruce, 4, Student: Steve’s little brother just started Kindergarten and struggles with controller-based console games. However, he seemed to excel at Kinect games – mainly because he could use his considerable energy to “freak out” his way to victory. While jumping, flailing, kicking, ducking and throwing himself on the floor, he feels his way to what move works best.
Ann, 67, Grandmother, Retired: Jumping almost a lifetime forward, Ann gave Kinect a brief shot before quitting. She was still spry enough to move with Kinect’s needs, but she felt too self-conscious and silly to enjoy the game. Still, she recognized how useful such games and technology could be for teaching, training or conducting physical therapy.
Cindy, 36, Mother, School Teacher: Cindy had some of the same complaints as Ann, agreeing with an argument I made at the 2010 E3 that adults might feel awkward playing Kinect games. My theory holds. But, games aside, Cindy reports that she does enjoy using Kinect to practice her Zumba. For some reason, dancing to a video game screen feels more natural than swinging a lightsaber at one.
Don, 35, Father, Heating and A/C Technician: A dedicated control gamer – especially with football and baseball titles – Don was able to adapt to Kinect usage. The more juvenile nature of the Kinect games left him a little cold. He wishes Kinect made better use of sports experiential concepts – putting him behind center in an NFL game or taking pitches from an all-star pitcher as effectively as it turns his son into the Incredible Hulk.
Me: Probably Too Old to Play Games, Underpaid Writer: Once I figured out the limits of the Kinect sensors, I found adjusting to the gaming style easy enough. I was aided by a natural sense of competitiveness – first to overcome the Kinect’s adjustment period – and, then, to beat the games I was playing. I enjoyed the Kinect experience immensely, but I also join with Don and wish there more aggressive adult sports titles to push the Kinect’s capability.
All totaled, the responses to the Kinect experience match what I expected from the system as far back as its introduction years ago. Kids entering the gaming world will adjust to the experience without a moment's hesitation. Gesture control will be part of their lives, and their brains will be wired differently for it as a result — especially as that same control finds it way into computers, appliances, etc.
Adults new to Kinect who are used to controllers will have to overcome the awkwardness of punching, dancing or general moving in front of their TV – especially with friends or family watching. And much older would-be players will likely assign Kinect to the realm of what those crazy kids are playing with — like hula-hoops and Silly Putty.
My remaining personal hope is that game developers continue to develop titles that can best involve more adults in the Kinect experience — making it less of a toy and more of an essential gaming tool.