Sunday, September 5, 2010

Freeplay 2010: Beyond the Controller

At last, here is one of the two final Freeplay 2010 pieces I promised to write. I walked into the “Beyond the Controller” roudtable discussion with a degree of pre-emptive (and presumptuous) reluctance. I was expecting a whole lot of death-of-the-controller, motion-sensor-utopia promotional talk. I was pleasantly mistaken.
While John Sietsma, Steve Bull, and Hugh Davies discussed their various augmented reality, transmedia, and cross-media projects, I don’t feel I know enough about augmented reality games myself to reproduce their presentations with any degree of accuracy—though, I now definitely want to learn more about them!
Truna (Jane Turner), however, started the discussion with a thought-provoking look at what precisely the controller ‘is’ and exactly what it contributes to our game experience. While all the presenters covered interesting topics, it was Truna’s talk that captured my interest the most and which I will be trying to do justice here. I should note, though, that I am basing this article entirely on my hastily scribbled notes so it should be read less as a report on what Truna said and more as what I personally took out of it.
“I don’t like controllers,” Truna began. “When you say ‘creativity’, I tend to think the opposite of ‘controlling’.”
By name, a controller is a thing that controls. But just what, precisely, is it controlling? This is not something I have ever really thought about. Clearly, the controller is so named because it allows the player to control some aspect of the game. But if that is the case, then it is the player that should be titled ‘controller’, right?
This all sounds very semantic, but what it comes down to is that the controller controls the player. Our actions and choices within the game are influenced, and to an extent predetermined, by the controller through which we interact with the game.
So how does the controller do this? Truna quoted Juul to say “The interface is the gameplay.” (I can’t find a reference for this verbatim quote but I imagine it is from “Easy to Use and Incredibly Difficult: On the Mythical Border between Interface and Gameplay”). The ways we can (and cannot) interact with the game determines how we actually play.
For the player, the controller functions as a form of prosthesis, replicating a limb that the player is missing. This prosthetic limb allows us to interact within the videogame world and serves the illusion that the fourth wall between the real and virtual worlds has been crossed: if what we are holding feels like a gun, then it is a gun.
For Truna, there exists two broad categories of controllers: specific and abstract (or generic). Within the specific grouping are controllers built for a specific style of gameplay: fishing rods, guitars, light guns, etc. that direct gameplay in a very narrow way. Abstract controllers are the more typical gamepads that the majority of console games rely on. Though, abstract controllers do not allow any more freedom for the player; rather, they just disguise the ways in which the player is being controlled. For Truna, the abstract controller is designed for two things: moving and shooting stuff.
Truna also made it clear, though, that she did not believe Sony and Microsoft’s new motion controllers were in any way moving beyond the controller. She pointed at a Microsoft press release that describes the Kinect as a “natural user interface”. But a player should be more than a user. Motion controllers do not remove the controllers (it is still in the name!); they merely remove them from the player’s hand. Using the player’s body as a controller is still situating a controller between the game and the player themselves.
So ultimately, the controller works to both give the player a sense of empowerment and agency (the player thinks, “I have a gun and I can shoot it whenever I want!”) and to discreetly remove the player’s actual agency (the player rarely thinks, “I can shoot, but I can’t do anything else.”). Our presence in the game world and the choices we make there are underpinned (and undermined) by the controller’s influence over us.
What Truna ultimately wants is for us to “think our way into games”. I initially took this as wanting some futuristic tech that we can plug into our brain. But the following speakers, with their different implementations of augmented reality games (such as Transumer and Jewel Collector) demonstrated how thinking into games would actually work.
John Sietsma summed up nicely what all the demonstrations showed: the more technology you add to a game, the more authority you ultimately remove from the player. Technology allows augmented reality games do things like geocaching and networking and recording data, but it weakens personal communication and (most importantly I think) limits the senses that the player is able to use.
So overall, what I took out of the discussion is that controllers aren’t ‘bad’ things that we must do away with, but they are doing very specific things to how we play, and we should be aware of that.


Mike Dunbar said...

Hey, I read your comment on Abbott's latest about Metroid and thought I'd check out your site. I'm enjoying your work... erm just wanted to drop that there.

Brendan Keogh said...

Hi Mike.

Thanks for stopping by. It's always great to know someone is reading. :)

truna said...

nice write up brendan .. must admit i glowed with delight in your previous freeplay blog when you refereed to me as the "incredible truna" - permission to put it on a t-shirt? Meanwhile, if you keen on the whole controller - game - design thing, we running a games and interface / HCI workshop for OZCHI 2010 in briz-vegas: ... currently accepting abstracts

love truna

Brendan Keogh said...

Hi Truna, thanks for stopping by!

Shucks, did I say that? I need to be careful with using adjectives along with people's names. I should have learned after the twitter furor after I called Brandon Boyer's voice 'soft and hesitant' in my Gama write-up, haha.

But in your case, the adjective was well deserved. It was a really fascinating presentation.

That workshop does look really interesting. Things like UI and HUD design are probably beyond my expertise, but I am really interested in the ways the playable character influences the player's agency and actions. In a sense, I guess the character that the player controls is really a key aspect of the interface as the character is really the player's gateway into the game-world.

Well now I am musing vaguely and way off tangent, but I'll definitely try to get something submitted.

Thanks again for stopping by. :)

Field Engineer said...

Very nice blog, Thanks for sharing grate article.
You are providing wonderful information, it is very useful to us.
Keep posting like this informative articles.
Thank you.

From: Field Engineer
Wan and Lan Definition

Kevin Saptel said...

Iam making a Battle framework for a little game I am making. I can't discover anything on this...Anyone realize, Pakistani Clothes what might be a truly decent measure of harm that a basic hit ought to dispense. i'm searching for a percent-wise answer.What I mean is how much more grounded should a basic hit be, than a normal assault. Anybody think about basic hits harm in pokemon.

Becky Spencer said...

Regardless of whether you function as a physical or IT security advisor, web design sharjah it is a remunerating job to help individuals with their security issues and needs. Security specialists may work for counseling firms or as independently employed temporary workers, yet these experts need essential instructive and affirmation prerequisites to work in their segment.

Cosmo789 said...

เป็นบล็อกที่น่าสนใจ เป็นเรื่องที่มีรายละเอียดมาก ขอบคุณสำหรับข้อมูล. หากว่าคุณต้องการที่จะผ่อนคลายความเครียด vegus 168 เราเปิดให้บริการเกมคาสิโนมากกว่า 200 รายการ เล่นง่ายที่สุด มีระบบฝาก-ถอน โอนไวที่สุด เปิดให้บริการ 24 ชม.

jhonathan said...

Best Collection Of Pakistani Party Dresses Online. Pakistani Party Dresses provide a middle ground when you don't want to be too casual or too formal.

Jon Hendo said...

Thanks mate. I am really impressed with your writing talents and also with the layout on your weblog. Appreciate, Is this a paid subject matter or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to peer a nice weblog like this one nowadays. Thank you, check also event marketing and thank you letter subject title

my168 said...

betflix ยิงปลา คาสิโนออนไลน์ บาคาร่าออนไลน์ เกมส์เดิมพันออนไลน์ท่านสมาชิกสามารถเล่นผ่านมือถือได้ทุกที่ทุกเวลาเราคือเว็บไซต์ที่ได้รับความนิยมมากที่สุดในขณะนี้ ซึ่งมีระบบรักษาความปลอดภัยที่มีมาตรฐาน มีเกมส์คาสิโนออนไลน์ ให้ท่านสมาชิกเลือกเล่นอย่างมากมาย ไม่ว่าจะเป็น บาคาร่าออนไลน์ รูเลทออนไลน์ และยังมีพนันกีฬาออนไลน์ทั้ง บอล บาส มวย และอีกมากมาย ฝาก-ถอนรวดเร็ว

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this informative content, keep sharing this content.

Both CRM software and contact management software are interrelated in that they both aid businesses in organizing contacts. However, CRM's functionality is far more extensive.

Astrid said...

Your site has a lot of useful information for me

Anonymous said...

We take pride in having onboard the most qualified and experienced domain experts with us. We have been successfully offering excellent Law homework help online services to students securing them only the best academic grades.